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SOLOMON IN HIS PLANTATION SUIT.
,p/riu& L ' c^c^u
A CITIZEN OF NEW-YORK,
KIDNAPPED IN WASHINGTON CITY IN M\
RESCUED IN 1853,
FROM A COTTON PLANTATION NEAR THE RED RIVB^
DERBY AND MILLER.
DERBY, ORTON AND MULLIGAN
SAMPBON LOW, SON & COMPANY, 41 LUDGATE
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year one thousand eight hundred and
Dseby and Miller,
In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the Northern District of New-York.
Entered in London at Stationers' Hall.
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE:
THROUGHOUT THE WOELD, IS IDENTIFIED 'WITH THE
THIS HABBATIVB, AFFORDING ANOTHER
®C2 to ©facie Eom'a ©aim,
IS RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED
" Suefa dupes are men to custom, and so prone
To reverenco what is ancient, and can plead
A course of long observance for its use,
That even servitude, the worst of ills,
Because delivered down from sire to son,
Is kept and guarded as a sacred thing.
But is it fit, or can it bear the shock
Of rational discussion, that a man
Compounded and made up, like other men,
Of elements tumultuous, in whom lust
And folly in as ample measure meet,
As in the bosom of the slave he rules,
Should be a despot absolute, and boast
Himself the only freeman of his land ? "
Editor's Peejaoe, 15
Introductory — Ancestry — The Northup Family — Birth and
Parentage -«- Mintus North up — Marriage "with Anne Hamp-
ton — Good Resolutions — Champlain Canal — Eafting Ex-
cursion to Canada — Farming — The Violin — Cooking — ■
Removal to Saratoga — Parker and Perry — Slaves and Sla-
very—The Children — The Beginning of Sorrow 11
The two Strangers — The Circus Company — Departure from
Saratoga — Ventriloquism and Legerdemain — Journey to
New-York — Free Papers — Brown and Hamilton — The
haste to reach the Circus — Arrival in Washington — Fune-
ral of Harrison — The Sudden Sickness — The Torment of
Thirst — The Receding Light — Insensibility — Chains and
Painful Meditations — James H. Burch — Williams' Slave Pen
in Washington — The Lackey, Radburn — Assert my Free-
dom — The Anger of the Trader — The Paddle and Cat-o'-nine-
tails — The Whipping — New Acquaintances — Ray, Williams,
and Randall — Arrival of Little Emily and her Mother in the
Pen — Maternal Sorrows — The Story of Eliza, 40
Efisa's Sorrows — Preparation to Embark — Driven Through
*h* Streets of Washington — Hail, Columbia — The Tomb of
Washington — Clem Ray — The Breakfast en the Steamer —
The happy Birds — Aquia Creek — Fredericksburgh — Arri-
val in Richmond — Goodin and his Slave Pen — Robert, of
Cincinnati — David and his Wife — Mary and Lethe — Clem'a
Keturn — His subsequent Escape to Canada — The Brig Or-
leans — James H. Burch, 54
Awiral at Norfolk — Frederick and Maria — Arthur, the Free-
man — Appointed Steward — Jim, Cuffee, and Jenny — The
fitorm — Bahama Banks — The Calm — The Conspiracy — The
Jjong Boat — The Small-Pox — Death of Robert — Manning,
tha Sailor — The Meeting in the Forecastle — The Letter —
sirrival at New-Orleans — Arthur's Rescue — Theophilus Free-
man, the Consignee — Piatt — First Night in the New-Orleans
. Slave. Pen, 65
#reernan's Industry — Cleanliness and Clothes — Exercising in
the Show Room — The Dance — Bob, the Fiddler — Arrival
of Customers — Slaves Examined — The Old Gentleman of
New-Orleans — Sale of David, Caroline, and Lethe — Parting
of Randall and Eliza — Small-Pox — The Hospital — Recov-
ery and Return to Freeman's Slave Pen — The Purchaser of
Eliea, Harry, and Piatt — Eliza's Agony on Parting from
Little Emily 18
fhe Steamboat Rodolph — Departure from New-Orleans — Wil-
liam Ford — Arrival at Alexandria, on Red River — Resolu-
tions — The Great Pine Woods — Wild Cattle — Martin's Sum-
mer Residence — The Texas Road — Arrival at Master Ford's
— Rose — Mistress Ford — Sally and her Children — John, the
Oook — Walter, Sam, and Antony — The Mills on Indian
Creek — Sabbath Days — Sam's Conversion — The Profit of
Kindness — Rafting — Adam Taydeni, the Little White Man —
Cascalla and his Tribe — The Indian Ball — John M. Tibeats
— The Storm approaching, S9
Ford's Embarrassments — The Sale to Tibeats — The Chattel
Mortgage — Mistress Ford's Plantation on Bayou Bceuf —
Description of the Latter — Ford's Brother-indaw, Peter Tan-
ner — Meeting with Eliza — She still Mourns for her Chil-
dren — Ford's Overseer, Chapin — Tibeats' Abuse — The Keg
of Kails — The First Fight with Tibeats — His Discomfiture
and Castigation — The attempt to Hang me — Chapin's In-
terference and Speech — Unhappy Reflections — Abrupt De-
parture of Tibeats, Cook, and Ramsey — Lawson and the
Brown Mule — Message to the Pine "Woods, 105
The Hot Sun — Yet bound — The Cords, sink into my Flesh —
Chapin's Uneasiness — Speculation — Rachel, and her Cup of
Water — Suffering increases — 'The Happiness of Slavery — ^
Arrival of Ford — He cuts the Cords which bind me, and
takes the Rope from my Neck — Misery — The gathering of
the Slaves in Eliza's Cabin — Their Kindness — Rachel Re-
peats the Occurrences of the Day — Lawson entertains his
Companions with an Account of his Ride — Chapin's appre-
hensions of Tibeats — Hired to Peter Tanner — Peter ex-
pounds the Scriptures — Description of the Stocks, 118
Return to Tibeats — Impossibility of pleasing him — He at-
tacks me with a Hatchet — The Struggle over the Broad Axe
— The Temptation to Murder him — Escape across the Plan-
tation — Observations from the Fence — Tibeats approaches,
followed by the Hounds — They take my Track — Their loud
Tells — They almost overtake me — I reach the Water —
The Hounds confused — Moccasin Snakes — Alligators — Night
in the "Great Pacoudrie Swamp" — The Sounds of Life —
North-West Course — Emerge into the Pine "Woods — Slave
and his Young Master — Arrival at Ford's — Food and Rest, 131
The Mistress' Garden — The Crimson and Golden Fruit — Or-
ange and Pomegranate Trees — Return to Bayou Bceuf —
Master Ford's Remarks on the way — The Meeting with Tib-
eats — His Account of the Chase — Ford censures hia Brutal-
ity — 'Arrival at the Plantation — Astonishment of the Slaves
on seeing me — The anticipated Flogging — Kentucky John
—Mr. Eldret, the Planter — Eldret's Sam — Trip to the "Big
Cane Brake" — The Tradition of "Sutton's Field" — Forest
Trees — Gnats and Mosquitoes — The Arrival of Black Wo-
men in the Big Cane — Lumber Women — Sudden Appear-
ance of Tibeats — His Provoking Treatment — Visit to Ba-
you Bcauf — The Slave Pass — Southern Hospitality — The
Last of Eliza — Sale to Edwin Epps, 146
Personal Appearance of Epps — Epps, Drunk and Sober — A
Glimpse of his History — Cotton Growing — The Mode of
Ploughing and Preparing Ground — Of Planting, of Hoe-
ing, of Picking, of Treating Raw Hands — The difference in
Cotton Pickers — Patsey a remarkable one — Tasked accord-
ing to Ability — Beauty of a Cotton Field — The Slave's La-
bors — Fear of Approaching the Gin-House — Weighing —
" Chores"— Cabin Life — The Corn Mill — The Uses of the
Gourd — Fear of Oversleeping — Fear continually — Mode
of Cultivating Corn — Sweet Potatoes — Fertility of the Soil
— Fattening Hogs — Preserving Bacon — Raising Cattle —
Shooting-Matches— Garden Products — Flowers and Verdure, 162
The Curious Axe-Helve — Symptoms of approaching Hlness —
Continue to decline — The Whip ineffectual — Confined
to the Cabin — Visit by Dr. "Wines — Partial Recovery — Fail-
ure at Cotton Picking — What may be heard on Epps' Plan-
tation—Lashes Graduated — Epps in a Whipping Mood —
Epps in a Dancing Mood — Description of the Dance — Loss
of Rest no Excuse — Epps' Characteristics — Jim Burns — Re-
moval from Huff Power to Bayou Bceuf — Description of
Uncle Abram; of Wiley; of Aunt Phebe; of Bob, Henry,
and Edward ; of Patsey ; with a Genealogical Account of
each — Something of their Past History, and Peculiar Char-
acteristics — Jealousy and Lust — Patsey, the Victim, 1Y6
Destruction of the Cotton Crop in 1845 — Demand for Laborers
in St. Mary's Parish — Sent thither in a Drove — The Order
of the March — The Grand Coteau — Hired to Judge Turner on
Bayou Salle — Appointed Driver in his Sugar House — Sun-
day Services — Slave Furniture ; how obtained — The Party
at Yarney's, in Centreville — Good Fortune — The Captain
of the Steamer — His Refusal to Secrete me — Return to Ba-
you Boeuf — Sight of Tibeats — Patsey's Sorrows — Tumult
and Contention — Hunting the Coon and Opossum — The
Cunning of the latter — The Lean Condition of the Slave —
Description of the Fish Trap — The Murder of the Man from
Natchez — Epps Chalenged by Marshall — The Influence of
Slavery — The Love of Freedom, 191
Labors on Sugar Plantations — The Mode of Planting Cane —
of Hoeing Cane — Cane Ricks — Cutting Cane — Description
of the Cane Knife — Winrowing — Preparing for Succeeding
Crops — Description of Hawkins' Sugar Mill on Bayou Boeuf
— The Christmas Holidays — The Carnival Season of the
Children of Bondage — The Christmas Supper — Red, the Fa-
vorite Color — The Violin, and the Consolation it afforded —
The Christmas Dance — Lively, the Coquette — Sam Roberts,
and his Rivals — Slave Songs — Southern Life as it is — Three
Days in the Year — The System of Marriage — Uncle Abram's
Contempt of Matrimony « 203
Ov<Jrse«rB— 'How they are Armed and Accompanied — The
Homicide — His Execution at Marksville — Slave Drivers —
Appointed Driver on removing to Bayou Boeuf — Practice
makes perfect — Epps's Attempt to Cut Piatt's Throat — The
Escape from him — Protected by the Mistress — Forbids Read-
ing and "Writing — Obtain a Sheet of Paper after Nine Years'
Effort — The Letter — Armsby, the Mean White — Partially
Confide in him — His Treachery — Epps' Suspicions — How
they were quieted — Burning the Letter — Amisby leaves
the Bayou— Disappointment and Despair, 228
Wiley disregards the counsels of Aunt Phebe and Uncle Abram,
and is e&ught by the Patrollers — The Organization and Du-
ties of the latter — "Wiley Runs Away — Speculations in re-
jg&rd to him — His Unexpected Return — His Capture on the
Red River, and Confinement in Alexandria Jail— Discovered
by Joseph B. Roberts — Subduing Dogs in anticipation of
Escape — The Fugitives in the Great Pine Woods — Captur-
ed by Adam Taydem and the Indians — Augustus killed by
Dogs — Nelly, Eldret's Slave "Woman — The Story of Celeste
— The Concerted Movement — Lew Cheney, the Traitor —
The Idea of Insurrection, 286
CNiel, the Tanner — Conversation with Aunt Phebe overheard
— Epps in the Tanning Business — Stabbing of Uncle Abram
— The Ugly Wound — Epps is Jealous — Patsey is Missing —
Her Return from Shaw's — Harriet, Shaw's Black Wife —
Eppa Enraged — Patsey denies his Charges — She is Tied
Down Naked to Four Stakes — The Inhuman Flogging —
"Flaying of Patsey — The Beauty of the Day — The Bucket of
Salt Water — The Dress stiff with Blood — Patsey grows
Melancholy — Her Idea of God and Eternity — Of Heaven and
Freedom — The Effect of Slave-Whipping — Epps' Oldest Son
— "The Child is Father to the Man," )4 250
Avery, on Bayou Rouge — Peculiarity of Dwellings — Epp3
builds a New House — Bass, the Carpenter — His Noble Qual-
ities — His Personal Appearance and Eccentricities — Bass
and Epps discuss the Question of Slavery — Epps' Opinion
of Bass — I make myself known to him — Our Conversation
— His Surprise — The Midnight Meeting on the Bayou Bank
— Bass' Assurances — Declares "War against Slavery — Why
I did not Disclose my History — Bass writes Letters — Copy
of his Letter to Messrs. Parker and Perry — The Fever of
Suspense — Disappointments — Bass endeavors to cheer me
—My Faith in him, 263
Bass faithful to his word — His Arrival on Christmas Eve —
The Difficulty of Obtaining an Interview — The Meeting in
the Cabin — Son-arrival of the Letter — Bass announces his
Intention to proceed North — Christmas — Coversation be-
tween Epps and Bass — Young Mistress McCoy, the Beauty
of Bayou Bceuf — The "Ne plus ultra" of Dinners — Music
and Dancing — Presence of the Mistress — Her Exceeding
Beauty — The Last Slave Dance — "William Pierce — Over-
sleep myself ^-The Last Whipping — Despondency — Cold
Morning — Epps' Threats — The Passing Carriage — Stran-
gers approaching through the Cotton-Field — Last Hour on
Bayou Bceuf, 279
The Letter reaches Saratoga — Is forwarded to Anne — Is laid
before Henry B. Northup — The Statute of May 14, 1840 —
Its Provisions — Anne's Memorial to the Governor — The af-
fidavits Accompanying it — Senator Soule's Letter — Depar-
ture of the Agent appointed by the Governor — Arrival at
Marksville — The Hon. John P. Waddill — The Conversation
on New-York Politics — It suggests a Fortunate Idea — The
Meeting with Bass — The Secret out — Legal Proceedings in-
stituted — Departure of Northup and the Sheriff from Marks-
ville for Bayou Boeuf — Arrangements on the Way — Reach
Epps' Plantation — Discover his Slaves in the Cotton-Field —
The Meeting — The Farewell, 289
Arrival in New-Orleans — Glimpse of Freeman — Genois, the
Recorder — His Description of Solomon — Reach Charleston
Interrupted by Custom House Officers — Pass through Rich-
mond — Arrival in Washington — Burch Arrested — Shekels
and Thorn — Their Testimony — Burch Acquitted — Arrest
of Solomon — Burch withdraws the Complaint — The High-
er Tribunal — Departure from Washington — Arrival at San-
dy Hill — Old Friends and Familiar Scenes — Proceed to
Glens Falls — Meeting with Anne, Margaret, and Elizabeth —
Solomon Northup Staunton — Incidents — Conclusion, S10
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
Portrait of Solomon in his Plantation Suit,
Scene in the Slave Pen at Washington,
Separation of Eliza and her last Child,
Chapin rescues Solomon from Hanging, •
The Staking out and Flogging of the girl Patset,
Scene in the Cotton Field, and Solomon's Delivery,
Arrival Home, and first meeting with his Wife and Children,
When the editor commenced the preparation of the fol-
lowing narrative, he did not suppose it would reach the size of
tins volume, hi order, however, to present all the facts which
have been communicated to him, it has seemed necessary to
extend it to its present length.
Many of the statements contained in the following pages are
corroborated by abundant evidence — others rest entirely upon
Solomon's assertion. That he has adhered strictly to the truth,
the editor, at least, who has had an opportunity of detecting
any contradiction or discrepancy in his statements, is well sat-
isfied. He has invariably repeated the same story without
deviating in the slightest particular, and has also carefully pe-
rused the manuscript, dictating an alteration wherever the most
trivial inaccuracy has appeared.
It was Solomon's fortune, during his captivity, to be owned by '
several masters. The treatment he received while at the " Pine
Woods " shows that a mong slaveholde rs there are men of hu-
manity as weUasof cxuejty. Some of them are spoken of with j
emotions of gratitude — others in a spirit of bitterness. It is ;
XVI EDITOR S PREFACE-
believed that the following account of his_e xp£xka£c on Bayou
Bceu f presents a correct picture of Slavery in all its lights and
shadows, as it now exists in that locality. Unbiased, as he
conceives, by any prepossessions or prejudices, the only object
of the editor has been to give a faithful history of Solomon
Northup's life, as he received it from his lips.
In the accomplishment of that object, he trusts he has suc-
ceeded, notwithstanding the numerous faults of style and of
expresssion it may be found to contain.
Whitehall, N. Y., May, 1853.
NARRATIVE OF SOLOMON NORTHUP.
INTRODUCTORY ANCESTRY THE NORTHUP FAMILY BIRTH AND PARENT-
AGE MLNTUS NORTHUP MARRIAGE WITH ANNE HAMPTON GOOD RES-
OLUTIONS CHAMPLAIN CANAL RAFTING EXCURSION TO CANADA
FARMING THE VIOLIN COOKING REMOVAL TO SARATOGA PARKER
AND PERRY SLAVES AND SLAVERY THE CHILDREN THE BEGINNING
Haying been born a freeman, and for more than
thirty years enjoyed the blessings of liberty in a free
State — and having at the end of that time been kid-
napped and sold into Slavery, where I remained, until
happily rescued in the month of January, 1S53, after
a bondage of twelve years — it has been suggested
that an account of my life and fortunes would not be
uninteresting to the public.
I Since my return to liberty, I have not failed to per-
ceive the increasing interest throughout the Northern
States, in regard to the subject of Slavery. "Works of
fiction, professing to portray its features in their more
pleasing as well as more repugnant aspects, have been
IS TWELVE TEAKS A SLAVE.
circulated to an extent unprecedented, and, as I un-
derstand, have created a fruitful topic of comment and
I can speak of Slavery only so far as it came under
my own observation — only so far as I have known
and experienced it in my own person. My object is,
to give a candid and truthful statement of facts : to
repeat the story of my life, without- exaggeration, leav-
ing it for others to determine, whether even the pages
of fiction present a picture of more cruel wrong or a
,>. As far back as I have been able to ascertain, my
ancestors on the paternal side were slaves in Ehode
Island. They belonged to a family by the name of
2SI orthup, one of whom, removing to the State of New-
York, settled at Hoosic, in Eensselaer county. He
brought with him Mintus ISTorthup, my father. On
the death of this gentleman, which must have occur-
red some fifty years ago, my father became free, hav-
ing been emancipated by a direction in his will.
Henry B. IsTorthup, Esq., of Sandy Hill, a distin-
guished counselor at law, and the man to whom, un-
der Providence, I am indebted for my present liberty,
and my return to the society of my wife and children,
is a relative of the family in which my forefathers
were thus held to service, and from which they took
the name I bear. To this fact may be attributed the
persevering interest he has taken in my behalf.
Sometime after my father's liberation, he removed
to the town of Minerva, Essex county, 1ST. Y., where I
was born, in the month of July, 1808. How long he
remained in the latter place I have not the means of
definitely ascertaining. From thence he removed to
Granville, Washington county, near a place known as
Slyborough, where, for some years, he labored on the
farm of Clark 2>Torthup, also a relative of his old mas-
ter ; from thence he removed to the Alden farm, at
Moss Street, a short distance north of the village of
Sandy Hill ; and from thence to the farm now owned
by Kussel Pratt, situated on the road leading from
Fort Edward to Argyle, where he continued to reside
until his death, which took place on the 22d day of
November, 1829. He left a widow and two children
— myself, and Joseph, an elder brother. The latter
is still living in the county of Oswego, near the city
of that name ; my mother died during the period of
Though born a slave, and laboring under the disad-
vantages to which my unfortunate race is subjected,
my father was a man respected for his industry and
integrity, as many now living, who well remember
him, are ready to testify. His whole life was passed in
the peaceful pursuits of agriculture, never seeking em-
ployment in those more menial positions, which seem
to be especially allotted to the children of Africa. Be-
sides giving us an education surpassing that ordinari-
ly bestowed upon children in our condition, he ac-
quired, ( by his diligence and economy, a sufficient
property qualification to entitle him to the right of
suffrage. He was accustomed to speak to us of his
20 TWELVE YEAES A SLAVE.
early life ; and although at all times cherishing the
warmest emotions of kindness, and even of affection
towards the family, in whose house he had been a
bondsman, he nevertheless comprehended the system
of Slavery, and dwelt with sorrow on the degradation
of his race. He endeavored to imbue our minds with
sentiments of morality, and to teach us to place our
trust and confidence in Him who regards the humblest
as well as the highest of his creatures. How often
since that time has the recollection of his paternal
counsels occurred to me, while lying in a slave hut in
the distant and sickly regions of Louisiana, smarting
with the undeserved wounds wdiich an inhuman mas-
ter had inflicted, and longing only for the grave which
had covered him, to shield me also from the lash of
the oppressor. In the church-yard at Sandy Hill, an
humble stone marks the spot where he reposes, after
having worthily performed the duties appertaining to
the lowly sphere wherein God had appointed him to
Up to this period I had been principally engaged
with my father in the labors of the farm. The leis-
ure hours allowed me were generally either employed
over my books, or playing on the violin — an amuse-
ment which was the ruling passion of my youth. It
has also been the source of consolation since, affording
pleasure to the simple beings with whom my lot was
cast, and beguiling my own thoughts, for many hours,
from the painful contemplation of my fate.
On Christmas dav, 1829, I was married to Anne
GOOD RESOLUTIONS. 21
Hampton, a colored girl then living in the vicinity of
onr residence. The ceremony was performed at Fort
Edward, by Timothy Eddy, Esq., a magistrate of
that town, and still a prominent citizen of the place.
She had resided a long time at Sandy Hill, with Mr.
Baird, proprietor of the Eagle Tavern, and also in the
family of Rev. Alexander Proudfit, of Salem. This
gentleman for many years had presided over the Pres-
byterian society at the latter place, and was widely
distinguished for his learning and piety. Anne
still holds in grateful remembrance the exceeding
kindness and the excellent counsels of that good man.
She is not able to determine the exact line of her de-
scent, but the blood of three races mingles in her
veins. It is difficult to tell whether the red, white, or
black predominates. The union of them all, however,
in her origin, has given her a singular but pleasing
expression, such as is rarely to be seen. Though
somewhat resembling, yet she cannot properly be
styled a quadroon, a class to which, I have omitted to
mention, my mother belonged.
I had just now passed the period of my minority,
having reached the age of twenty-one years in the
month of July previous. Deprived of the advice and
assistance of my father, with a wife dependent upon
me for support, I resolved to enter upon a life of in-
dustry ; and notwithstanding the obstacle of color,
and the consciousness of my lowly state, indulged in
pleasant dreams of a good time coming, when the pos-
session of some humble habitation, with a few sur-
22 TWELVE TEAE3 A SLAVE.
rounding acres, should reward my labors, and bring
me the means of happiness and comfort.
From the time of my marriage to this day the love
I have borne my wife has been sincere and unabated;
and only those who have felt the glowing tenderness
a father cherishes for his offspring, can appreciate my
affection for the beloved children which have since
been born to us. This much I deem appropriate and
necessary to say, in order that those who read these
pages, may comprehend the poignancy of those suf-
ferings I have been doomed to bear.
Immediately upon our marriage we commenced
house-keeping, in the old yellow building then stand-
ing at the southern extremity of Fort Edward village,
and which has since been transformed into a modern
mansion, and lately occupied by Captain Lathrop.
It is known as the Fort ■ House. In this building the
courts were sometime held after the organization of
the county. It was also occupied by Burgoyne in
1777, being situated near the old Fort on the left bank
of the Hudson.
During the winter I was employed with others re-
pairing the Champlain Canal, on that section over
which "William Van Nortwick was superintendent.
David McEachron had the immediate charge of the
men in whose company I labored. By the time the
canal opened in the spring, I was enabled, from the
savings of ,my wages, to purchase a pair of horses, and
other things necessarily required in the business of
EXCURSION TO CANADA. 23
Having hired several efficient hands to assist me, I
entered into contracts for the transportation of large
rafts of timber from Lake Champlain to Troy. Dyer
Beckwith and a Mr. Bartemy, of Whitehall, accompa-
nied me on several trips. During the season I be-
came perfectly familiar with the art and mysteries of
rafting — a knowledge which afterwards enabled me
to render profitable service to a worthy master, and
to astonish the simple-witted lumbermen on the banks
of the Bayou Bceuf.
In one of my voyages down Lake Champlain, I was
induced to make a visit to Canada. Repairing to
Montreal, I visited the cathedral and other places of
interest in that city, from whence I continued my ex-
cursion to Kingston and other towns, obtaining a
knowledge of localities, which was also of service to
me afterwards, as will appear towards the close of
Having completed my contracts on the canal satis-
factorily to myself and to my employer, and not wish-
ing to remain idle, now that the navigation of the ca-
nal was again suspended, I entered into another con-
tract with Medad Gunn, to cut a large quantity of
wood. In this business I was engaged during the
winter of 1831-32.
"With the return of spring, Anne and myself con-
ceived the project of taking a farm in the neighbor-
hood. I had been accustomed from earliest youth to
agricultural labors, and it was an occupation conge-
nial to my tastes. I accordingly entered into arrange-
24 TWELVE TEARS A SLAVE.
ment's for a part of the old Alden farm, on which my
father formerly resided. "With one cow, one swine,
a yoke of fine oxen I had lately purchased of Lewis
Brown, in Hartford, and other personal property and
effects, we proceeded to our new home in Kingsbury.
That year I planted twenty-five acres of corn, sowed
large fields of oats, and commenced farming upon as
large a scale as my utmost means would permit.
Anne was diligent about the house affairs, while I
toiled laboriously in the field.
On this place we continued to reside until 1834.
In the winter season I had numerous calls to play on
the violin. Wherever the young people assembled to
dance, I was almost invariably there. Throughout
the surrounding villages my fiddle was notorious.
Anne, also, during her long residence at the Eagle
Tavern, had become somewhat famous as a cook.
During court weeks, and on public occasions, she was
employed at high wages in the kitchen at Sherrill's
"We always returned home from the performance
of these services with money in our pockets ; so that,
with fiddling, cooking, and farming, we soon found
ourselves in the possession of abundance, and, in fact,
leading a happy and prosperous life. "Well, indeed,
would it have been for us had we remained on the
farm at Kingsbury ; but the time came when the
next step was to be taken towards the cruel destiny
that awaited me.
In March, 1834, we removed to Saratoga Springs.
REMOVAL TO SARATOGA. 25
We occupied a house belonging to Daniel O'Brien,
on the north side of Washington street. At that time
Isaac Taylor kept a large boarding house, known as
Washington Hall, at the north end of Broadway. He
employed me to drive a hack, in which capacity 1
worked for him two years. After this time I was
generally employed through the visiting season, as
also was Anne, in the United States Hotel, and other
public houses of the place. In winter seasons I re-
lied upon my violin, though during the construction
of the Troy and Saratoga railroad, I performed many
hard days 1 labor upon it.
I was in the habit, at Saratoga, of purchasing arti
cles necessary for my family at the stores of Mr. Ce
phas Parker and Mr. William Perry, gentlemen
towards whom, for many acts of kindness, I enter-
tained feelings of strong regard. It was for this rea-
son that, twelve years afterwards, I caused to be di-
rected to them the letter, which is hereinafter insert-
ed, and which was the means, in the hands of Mr.
Northup, of my fortunate deliverance.
While living at the United States Hotel, I frequent-
ly met with slaves, who had accompanied their mas-
ters from the South. They were always well dressed
and well provided for, leading apparently an easy life,
with but few of its ordinary troubles to perplex them.
Many times they entered into conversation with me
on the subject of Slavery. Almost uniformly I found
they cherished a secret desire for liberty. Some of
them expressed the most ardent anxiety to escape, and
26 TWELVE TEAKS A SLAVE.
consulted me on the best method of effecting it. The
fear of punishment, however, which they knew was
certain to attend their re-capture and return, in all
cases proved sufficient to deter them from the exper-
iment. Having all my life breathed the free air of
the North, and conscious that I possessed the same
feelings and affections that find a place in the white
man's breast ; conscious, moreover, of an intelligence
equal to that of some men, at least, with a fairer skin,
I was too ignorant, perhaps too independent, to con-
ceive how any one could be content to live in the ab-
ject condition of a slave. I could not comprehend the
justice of that law, or that religion, which upholds or
recognizes the principle of Slavery ; and never once,
I am proud to say, did I fail to counsel any one who
came to me, to watch his opportunity, and strike for
I continued to reside at Saratoga until the spring of
1841. The flattering anticipations which, seven years
before, had seduced us from the quiet farm-house, on
the east side of the Hudson, had not been realized.
Though always in comfortable circumstances, we
had not prospered. The society and associations at that
world-renowned watering place, were not calculated
to preserve the simple habits of industry and economy
to which I had been accustomed, but, on the contrary,
to substitute others in their stead, tending to shift-
lessness and extravagance.
At this time we were the parents of three children
— Elizabeth, Margaret, and Alonzo. Elizabeth, the
H01IE AXD ITS PLEASURES. 27
eldest, was in her tenth, year; Margaret was two
years younger, and little Alonzo had just passed his
fifth birth-day. They filled onr house with gladness.
Their young voices were music in our ears. Many an
airy castle did their mother and myself build for the
little innocents. When not at labor I was always
walking with them, clad in their best attire, through
the streets and groves of Saratoga. Their presence
was my delight ; and I clasped them to my bosom
with as warm and tender love as if their clouded skins
had been as white as snow.
Thus far the history of my life presents nothing
whatever unusual — nothing but the common hopes,
and loves, and labors of an obscure colored man, ma-
king his humble progress in the world. But now I
had reached a turning point in my existence — reach-
ed the threshold of unutterable wrong, and sorrow,
and despair. Kow had I approached within the shad-
ow of the cloud, into the thick darkness whereof I was
soon to disappear, thenceforward to be hidden from
the eyes of all my kindred, and shut out from the
sweet light of liberty, for many a weary year.
THE TWO STRANGERS THE CIRCUS COMPANY DEPARTURE FROM SARA-
TOGA VENTRILOQUISM AND LEGERDEMAIN JOURNEY TO NEW-YORK
FREE PAPERS BROWN AND HAMILTON THE HASTE TO REACH THE
CIRCUS ARRIVAL IN WASHINGTON FUNERAL OF HARRISON TOE SUD-
DEN SICKNESS THE TORMENT OF THIRST THE RECEDING LIGHT IN-
SENSIBILITY CHAINS AND DARKNESS.
One morning, towards the latter part of the month
of March, 18-11, having at that time no particular
business to engage my attention, I was walking about
the village of Saratoga Springs, thinking to myself
where I might obtain some present employment, un-
til the busy season should arrive. Anne, as was her
usual custom, had gone over to Sandy Hill, a dis-
tance of some twenty miles, to take charge of the cu-
linary department at Sherrill's Coffee House, during
the session of the court. Elizabeth, I think, had ac-
companied her. Margaret and Alonzo were with
their aunt at Saratoga.
On the corner of Congress street and Broadway,
near the tavern, then, and for aught I know to the
contrary, still kept by Mr. Moon, I was met by two
gentlemen of respectable appearance, both of whom
were entirely unknown to me. I have the impres-
THE TWO STRA^GEKS. 29
sioii that they were introduced to me by some one of
my acquaintances, but who, I hare in vain endeavor-
ed to recall, .with the remark that I was an expert
player on the violin, '
At any rate, they immediately entered into conver-
sation on that subject, making numerous inquiries
touching my proficiency in that respect. My respon-
ses being to alL appearances satisfactory, they propos-
ed to engage my services for a short period, stating,
at the same time, I was just such a person as their
business required. Their names, as they afterwards
gave them to me, were Merrill Brown and Abram
Hamilton, though whether these were their true ap-
pellations, I have strong reasons to doubt. -The for-
mer was a man apparently forty years of age, some-
what short and thick-set, with a countenance indica-
ting shrewdness and intelligence. Tie wore' a black
frock coat and black hat, and said he resided either at
Rochester or at Syracuse. The latter was a young
man of fair complexion and light eyes, and, I should
judge, had not passed the age of twenty -five. He
was tall and slender, dressed in a snuff-colored coat,
with glossy hat, and vest of elegant pattern. His
whole apparel was in the extreme of fashion. His
appearance was somewhat effeminate, but prepossess-
ing, and there was about him an easy air, that showed
he had mingled with the world. They were connect-
ed, as they informed me, with a circus company, then
in the city of Washington ; that they were on their
30 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
way thither to rejoin it, having left it for a short time
to make an excursion northward, for the purpose of
seeing the country, and were paying their expenses
by an occasional exhibition. They also remarked
that they had found much difficulty in procuring mu-
sic for their entertainments, and that if I would ac-
company them as far as New- York, they would give
me one dollar for each day's services, and three dol-
lars in addition for every night I played at their per-
formances, besides sufficient to pay the expenses of
my return from ISTew-York to Saratoga.
I at once accepted the tempting offer, both for the
reward it promised, and from a desire to visit the
metropolis. They were anxious to leave immediately.
Thinking my absence would be brief, I did not deem
it necessary to write to Anne whither I had gone ;
in fact supposing that my return, perhaps, would be
as soon as hers. So taking a change of linen and my
violin, I was ready to depart. The carriage was
brought round — a covered one, drawn by a pair of
noble bays, altogether forming an elegant establish-
ment. Their baggage, consisting of three large
trunks, was fastened on the rack, and mounting to
the driver's seat, while they took their places in the
rear, I drove away from Saratoga on the road to
Albany, elated with my new position, and happy as
I had ever been, on any day in alt my life.
We passed through Ballston, and striking the ridge
road, as it is called, if my memory correctly serves
VENTRILOQUISM AND LEGERDEMAIN. 31
me, followed it direct to Albany. "We reached that
city before dark, and stopped at a hotel southward
from the Museum.
This night I had an opportunity of witnessing one
of their performances — the only one, during the whole
period I was with them. Hamilton was stationed at
the door ; I formed the orchestra, while Brown pro-
vided the entertainment. It consisted in throwing
balls, dancing on the rope, frying pancakes in a hat,
causing invisible pigs to squeal, and other like feats
of ventriloquism and legerdemain. The audience
was extraordinarily sparse, and not of the selectest
character at that, and Hamilton's report of the pro-
ceeds presented but a " beggarly account of empty
Early next morning we renewed our journey. The
burden of their conversation now was the expression
of an anxiety to reach the circus without delay.
They hurried forward, without again stopping to ex-
hibit, and in due course of time, we reached Xew-
York, taking lodgings at a house on the west side of
the city, in a street running from Broadway to the
river. I supposed my journey was at an end, and
expected in a day or two at least, to return to my
friends and family at Saratoga. Brown and Hamil-
ton, however, began to importune me to continue with
them to Washington. They alleged that immediately
on their arrival, now that the summer season was ap-
proaching, the circus would set out for the north.
They promised me a situation and high wages if I
32 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
would accompany them. Largely did they expatiate
on the advantages that would result to me, and such
were the flattering representations they made, that I
finally concluded to accept the offer.
The next morning they suggested that, inasmuch
as we were about entering a slave State, it would be
well, before leaving New- York, to procure free pa-
pers. The idea struck me as a prudent one, though I
think it would scarcely have occurred to me, had they
not proposed it. We proceeded at once to what I un-
derstood to be the Custom House. They made oath to
certain facts showing I was a free man. A paper was
drawn up and handed us, with the direction to take it
to the clerk's office. We did so, and the clerk having
added something to it, for which he was paid six shil-
lings, we returned again to the Custom House. Some
further formalities were gone through with before it
was completed, when, paying the officer two dollars,
I placed the papers in my pocket, and started with
my two friends to our hotel. I thought at the time,
I must confess, that the papers were scarcely worth the
cost of obtaining them — the apprehension of danger
to my personal safety never having suggested itself
to me in the remotest manner. . The clerk, to whom
we were directed, I remember, made a memorandum
in a large book, which, I presume, is in the office
yet. A reference to the entries during the latter part
of March, or first of April, 1841, I have no doubt
will satisfy the incredulous, at least so far as this par-
ticular transaction is concerned.
ARRIVAL AT WASHINGTON. 33
"With the evidence of freedom in my possession, the
next day after onr arrival in New- York, we crossed
the ferry to Jersey City, and took the road to Phila-
delphia. Here we remained one night, continuing
our journey towards Baltimore early in the morning.
In due time, we arrived in the latter city, and stopped
at a hotel near the railroad depot, either kept by a
Mr. Rathbone, or known as the Rathbone House.
All the way from New- York, their anxiety to reach
the circus seemed to grow more and more intense.
"We left the carriage at Baltimore, and entering the
cars, proceeded to "Washington, at which place we
arrived just at nightfall, the evening previous to the
funeral of General Harrison, and stopped at Gadsby's
Hotel, on Pennsylvania Avenue.
After supper they called me to their apartments,
and paid me forty-three dollars, a sum greater than
my wages amounted to, which act of generosity was
in consequence, they said, of their not having exhib-
ited as often as they had given me to anticipate, du-
ring our trip from Saratoga. They moreover inform-
ed me that it had been the intention of the circus
company to leave Washington the next morning, but
that on account of the funeral, they had concluded to
remain another day. They were then, as they had been
from the time of our first meeting, extremely kind.
No opportunity was omitted of addressing me in the
language of approbation ; while, on the other hand,
I was certainly much prepossessed in their favor. I
B* " 3
34 TWELVE YEARS A SLATE.
gave them my confidence without reserve, and would
freely have trusted them to almost any extent, Their
constant conversation and manner towards me — their
foresight in suggesting the idea of free papers, and a
hundred other little acts, unnecessary to be repeated — ■
all indicated that they were friends indeed, sincerely
solicitous for my welfare. I know not but they were.
I know not but they were innocent of the great wick-
edness of which I now believe them guilty. Whether
they were accessory to my misfortunes — subtle and
inhuman monsters in the shape of men — designedly
luring me away from home and family, and liberty,
for the sake of gold — those who read these pages
will have the same means of determining as myself.
If they were innocent, my sudden disappearance
must have been unaccountable indeed ; but revolv-
ing in my mind all the attending circumstances, I
never yet could indulge, towards them, so charitable
After receiving the money from them, of which
they appeared to have an abundance, they advised
me not to go into the streets that night, inasmuch
as I was unacquainted with the customs of the city.
Promising to remember their advice, I left them to-
gether, and soon after was shown by a colored ser-
vant to a sleeping room in the back part of the hotel,
on the ground floor. I laid down to rest, thinking of
home and wife, and children, and the long distance
that stretched between us, until I fell asleep. But
FUNERAL OF HARBISON. 35
no good angel of pity came to my bedside, bidding
me to fly — no voice of mercy forewarned me in my
dreams of the trials that were just at hand.
The next day there was a great pageant in Wash-
ington. The roar of cannon and the tolling of bells
filled the air, while many houses were shrouded with
crape, and the streets were black with people. As
the day advanced, the procession made its appear-
ance, coming slowly through the Avenue, carriage
after carriage, in long succession, while thousands
upon thousands followed on foot — all moving to the
sound of melancholy music. They were bearing the
dead body of Harrison to the grave.
From early in the morning, I was constantly in the
company of Hamilton and Bi'own. They were the
only persons I knew in Washington. We stood to-
gether as the funeral pomp passed by. I remember
distinctly how the window glass would break and
rattle to the ground, after each report of the cannon
they were firing in the burial ground. We went to the
Capitol, and walked a long time about the grounds.
In the afternoon, they strolled towards the Presi-
dent's House, all the time keeping me near to them,
and pointing out various places of interest. As yet,
I had seen nothing of the circus. In fact, I had
thought of it but little, if at all, amidst the excite-
ment of the day.
My friends, several times during the afternoon, en-
tered drinking saloons, and called for liquor. They
were by no means in the habit, however, so far as I
36 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
knew them, of indulging to excess. On these occa-
sions, after serving themselves, they would pour out
a glass and hand it to me. I did not become intoxi-
cated, as may be inferred from what subsequently
occurred. Towards evening, and soon after parta-
king of one of these potations, I began to experience
most unpleasant sensations. I felt extremely ill. My
head commenced aching — a dull, heavy pain, inex-
pressibly disagreeable. At the supper table, I was
without appetite ; the sight and flavor of food was
nauseous. About dark the same servant conducted
me to the room I had occupied the previous night.
Brown and Hamilton advised me to retire, commise-
rating me kindly, and expressing hopes that I would be
better in the morning. Divesting myself of coat and
boots merely, I threw myself upon the bed. It was
impossible to sleep. The pain in my head continued
to increase, until it became almost unbearable. In a
short time I became thirsty. My lips were parched.
I could think of nothing but water — of lakes and
flowing rivers, of brooks where I had stooped to
drink, and of the dripping bucket, rising with its cool
and overflowing nectar, from the bottom of the well.
Towards midnight, as near as I could judge, I arose,
unable longer to bear such intensity of thirst. I
was a stranger in the house, and knew nothing of its
apartments. There was no one up, as I could observe.
Groping about at random, I knew not where, I found
the way at last to a kitchen in the basement. Two
or three colored servants were mo vino; through it, one
THE TORMENT OF THIRST. 37
of whom, a woman, gave me two glasses of water.
It afforded momentary relief, but by the time I had
reached my room again, the same burning desire of
drink, the same tormenting thirst, had again returned.
It was even more torturing than before, as was also
the wild pain in my head, if such a thing could be.
I was in sore distress — in most excruciating agony !
I seemed to stand on the brink of madness ! The
memory of that night of horrible suffering will fol-
low me to the grave.
In the course of an hour or more after my return
from the kitchen, I was conscious of some one enter-
ing my room. There seemed to be several — a ming-
ling of various voices, — but how many, or who
they were, I cannot tell. Whether Brown and Hamil-
ton were among them, is a mere matter of conjecture.
I only remember, with any degree of distinctness,
that' I was told it was necessary to go to a physician
and procure medicine, and that pulling on my boots,
without coat or hat, I followed them through a long
passage-way, or alley, into the open street. It ran
out at right angles from Pennsylvania Avenue. On
the opposite side there was alight burning in a win-
dow. My impression is there were then three per-
sons with me, but it is altogether indefinite and
vague, and like the memory of a painful dream.
Going towards the light, which I imagined proceed-
ed from a physician's office, and which seemed to re-
cede as I advanced, is the last glimmering recollec-
tion I can now recall. From that moment I was
38 TWELVE TEARS A SLAVE.
insensible. How long I remained in that condition —
whether only that night, or many days and nights — ■
I do not know ; but when consciousness returned, I
found myself alone, in utter darkness, and in chains.
The pain in my head had subsided in a measure,
but I was -very faint and weak. I was sitting upon a
low bench, made of rough boards, and without coat
or hat. I was hand-cuffed. Around my ankles also
were a pair of heavy fetters. One end of a chain was
fastened to a large ring in the floor, the other to the
fetters on my ankles. I tried in vain to stand upon
my feet. Waking from such a painful trance, it
was some time before I could collect my thoughts.
Where was I? What was the meaning of these
chains ? Where were Brown and Hamilton ? What
had I done to deserve imprisonment in such a dun-
geon ? I could not comprehend. There was a blank
of some indefinite period, preceding my awakening
in that lonely place, the events of which the utmost
stretch of memory was unable to recall. I listened
intently for some sign or sound of life, but nothing
broke the oppressive silence, save the clinking of my
chains, whenever I chanced to move. I spoke aloud,
but the sound of my voice startled me. I felt of my
pockets, so far as the fetters would allow — far enough,
indeed, to ascertain that I had not only been robbed
of liberty, but that my money and free papers were
also gone ! Then did the idea begin to break upon
my mind, at first dim and confused, that I had been
kidnapped. But that I thought was incredible.
CHAINS AiS'D DARKNESS. 39
There must have been some misapprehension — some
unfortunate mistake. It could not be that a free
citizen of Xew-York, who had wronged no man, nor
violated any law, should be dealt with thus inhumanly.
The more I contemplated my situation, however, the
more I became confirmed in my suspicions. It was a
desolate thought, indeed. I felt there was no trust or
mercy in unfeeling man ; and commending myself to
the Grod of the oppressed, bowed my head upon my
fettered hands, and wept most bitterly.
PAINFUL MEDITATIONS JAMES H. BUKCH — WILLIAMS' SLAVE PEN IN
WASHINGTON THE LACKEY, RADEURN ASSERT MY FREEDOM THE
ANGER OF THE TRADER THE PADDLE AND CAT-o'-NINETAILS THE
WHIPPING XP? ACQUAINTANCES RAY, WILLIAMS, AND RANDALL — ■
ARRIVAL OF LITTLE EMILY AND HER MOTHER IN THE PEN MATERNAL
SORROWS THE STORY OF ELIZA.
Some three hours elapsed, during which time I re-
mained seated on the low bench, absorbed in painful
meditations. At length I heard the crowing of a
cock, and soon a distant rumbling sound, as of car-
riages hurrying through the streets, came to my ears,
and I knew that it was day. No ray of light, how-
ever, penetrated my prison. Finally, I heard foot-
steps immediately overhead, as of some one walking
to and fro. It occurred to me then that I must be
in an underground apartment, and the damp, mouldy
odors of the place confirmed the supposition. The
noise above continued for at least an hour, when,
at last, 1 heard footsteps approaching from without.
A key rattled in the lock — a strong door swung back
upon its hinges, admitting a flood of light, and two
men entered and stood before me. One of them was
a large, powerful man, forty years of age, perhaps,
BUECH, THE SLAVE DEALEK. 41
with dark, cliestimt-colored hair, slightly interspersed
with gray. His face was full, his complexion flush,
his features grossly coarse, expressive of nothing but
cruelty and cunning. He was about five feet ten
inches high, of full habit, and, without prejudice, I
must be allowed to say, was a man whose whole ap-
pearance was sinister and repugnant. His name was
James H. Burch, as I learned afterwards — a well-
known slave-dealer in Washington ; and then, or late-
ly, connected in business, as a partner, with Theophi-
lus Freeman, of ISTew- Orleans. The person who
accompanied him was a simple lackey, named Ebe-
nezer Radburn, who acted merely in the capacity of
turnkey. Both of these men still live in "Washington,
or did, at the time of my return through that city
from slavery in January last.
The light admitted through the open door enabled
me to observe the room in which I was confined. It
was about twelve feet square — the walls of solid ma-
sonry. The floor was of heavy plank. There was
one small window, crossed with great iron bars, with
an outside shutter, securely fastened.
An iron-bound door led into an adjoining cell, or
vault, wholly destitute of windows, or any means of
admitting light. The furniture of the room in which
I was, consisted of the wooden bench on which I sat,
an old-fashioned, dirty box stove, and besides these,
in either cell, there was neither bed, nor blanket, nor
any other thing whatever. The door, through which
42 TWELVE TEARS A SLAVE.
Burcli and Radburn entered, led tlirougli a small
passage, up a flight of steps into a yard, surrounded
by a brick wall ten or twelve feet high, immediately
in rear of a building of tlie same width as itself.
The yard extended rearward from the house about
thirty feet. In one part of the wall there was a
strongly ironed door, opening into a narrow, covered
passage, leading along one side of the house into the
street. The doom of the colored man, upon whom
the door leading out of that narrow passage closed,
was sealed. The top of the wall supported one end
of a roof, which ascended inwards, forming a kind of
open shed. Underneath the roof there was a crazy
loft all round, where slaves, if so disposed, might
sleep at night, or in inclement weather seek shelter
from the storm. It was like a farmer's barnyard in
most respects, save it was so constructed that the out-
side world could never see the human cattle that were
The building to which the yard was attached, was
two stories high, fronting on one of the public streets
of Washington. Its outside presented only the ap-
pearance of a quiet private residence. A stranger
looking at it, would never have dreamed of its exe-
crable uses. Strange as it may seem, within plain
sight of this same house, looking down from its com-
manding height upon it, was the Capitol. The voices
of patriotic representatives boasting of freedom and
equality, and the rattling of the poor slave's chains,
ASSERT MY FREEDOM. 43
almost commingled. A slave pen within the verv
shadow of the Capitol !
Such is a correct description as it was in 1841, of
Williams' slave pen in Washington, in one of the eel
lars of which I found myself so unaccountably con-
" Well, my boy, how do you feel now ?" said
Burch, as he entered through the open door. I re-
plied that I was sick, and inquired the cause of my
imprisonment. He answered that I was his slave —
that he had bought me, and that he was about to send
me to New-Orleans. I asserted, aloud and boldly,
that I was a free man — a resident of Saratoga, where
I had a wife and children, who were also free, and
that my name was Northup. I complained bitterly
of the strange treatment I had received, and threat-
ened, upon my liberation, to have satisfaction for the
wrong. He denied that I was free, and with an em-
phatic oath, declared that I came from Georgia.
Again and again I asserted I was no man's slave, and
insisted upon his taking off my chains at once. He
endeavored to hush me, as if he feared my voice
would be overheard. But I would not be silent, and
denounced the authors of my imprisonment, whoever
they might be, as unmitigated villains. Finding he
could not quiet me, he flew into a towering passion.
With blasphemous oaths, he called me a black liar, a
runaway from Georgia, and every other profane and
4A: TWELVE TEAKS A SLAVE.
vulgar epithet that the most indecent fancy could
During this time Badburn was standing silently
by. His business was, to oversee this human, or
rather inhuman stable, receiving slaves, feeding and
whipping them, at the rate of two shillings a head
per day. Turning to him, Burch ordered the paddle
and cat-o'-ninetails to be brought in. He disappear-
ed, and in a few moments returned with these in-
struments of torture. The paddle, as it is termed in
slave-beating parlance, or at least the one with which I
first became acquainted, and of which I now speak, was
a piece of hard-wood board, eighteen or twenty inches
long, moulded to the shape of an old-fashioned pudding
stick, or ordinary oar. The flattened portion, which
was about the size in circumference of two open
hands, was bored with a small auger in numerous
places. The cat was a large rope of many strands —
the strands unraveled, and a knot tied at the extrem-
ity of each.
As soon as these formidable whips appeared, I was
seized by both of them, and roughly divested of my
clothing. My feet, as has been stated, were fastened
to the floor. Drawing me over the bench, face down-
wards, Badburn placed his heavy foot upon the fet-
ters, between my wrists, holding them painfully to the
floor. With the paddle, Burch commenced beating
me. Blow after blow was inflicted upon my naked
body. When his unrelenting arm grew tired, he
SCENE IN THE SLAVE PEN AT WASHINGTON.
THE WHIPPING. 45
stopped and asked if I still insisted I was a free man.
I did insist upon it, and then the blows were renewed,
faster and more energetically, if possible, than before.
"When again tired, he would repeat the same question,
and receiving the same answer, continue his cruel
labor. All this time, the incarnate devil was utter-
ing most fiendish oaths. At length the paddle broke,
leaving; the useless handle in his hand. Still I would
not yield. All his brutal blows could not force from
my lips the foul lie that I was a slave. Casting mad-
ly on the floor the handle of the broken paddle, he
seized the rope. This was far more painful than the
other. I struggled with all my power, but it was in
vain. I prayed for mercy, but my prayer was only
answered with imprecations and with stripes. I
thought I must die beneath the lashes of the accursed
brute. Even now the flesh crawls upon my bones, as
I recall the scene. I was all on fire. My sufferings
I can compare to nothing else than the burning ago-
nies of hell !
At last I became silent to his repeated questions.
I would make no reply. In fact, I was becoming al-
most unable to speak. Still he plied the lash without
stint upon my poor body, until it seemed that the
lacerated flesh was stripped from my bones at every
stroke. A man with a particle of mercy in his soul
would not have beaten even a dog so cruelly. At
length Ivadbum said that it was useless to whip
me any more — that I would be sore enough. There-
upon, Burch desisted, saying, with an admonitory
4cQ TWELVE TEAES A SLAVE.
shake of his fist in my face, and hissing the words
through his firm-set teeth, that if ever I dared to
utter again that I was entitled to my freedom, that I
had been kidnapped, or any thing whatever of the
kind, the castigation I had just received was nothing
in comparison with what would follow. He swore
that he would either conquer or kill me. "With these
consolatory words, the fetters were taken from my
wrists, my feet still remaining fastened to the ring ;
the shutter of the little barred window, which had
been opened, was again closed, and going out, lock-
ing the great door behind them, I was left in dark-
ness as before.
In an hour, perhaps two, my heart leaped to my
throat, as the key rattled in the door again. I, who
had been so lonely, and who had longed so ar-
dently to see some one, I cared not who, now shud-
dered at the thought of man's approach. A human
face was fearful to me, especially a white one. Rad-
burn entered, bringing with him, on a tin plate, a
piece of shriveled fried pork, a slice of bread and a
cup of water. He asked me how I felt, and remark-
ed that I had received a pretty severe flogging. He
remonstrated with me against the propriety of as-
serting my freedom. In rather a patronizing and
confidential manner, he gave it to me as his advice,
that the less I said on that subject the better it would
be for me. The man evidently endeavored to appear
kind — whether touched at the.sight of my sad condi-
tion, or with the view of silencing, on my part, any
THE WHIPPING. 47
furtlier expression of my rights, it is not necessary
now to conjecture. He unlocked the fetters from my
ankles, opened the shutters of the little window, and
departed, leaving me again alone.
By this time I had become stiff and sore ; my
"body was covered with blisters, and it was with great
pain and difficulty that I could move. From the
window I could observe nothing but the roof resting
on the adjacent wall. At night I laid down upon the
damp, hard floor, without any pillow or covering
whatever. Punctually, twice a day, Eadburn came
in, with his pork, and bread, and water. I had but
little appetite, though I was tormented with contin-
ual thirst. My wounds would not permit me to re-
main but a few minutes in any one position ; so, sit-
ting, or standing, or moving slowly round, I passed
the days and nights. I was heart sick and discour-
aged. Thoughts of my family, of my wife and chil-
dren, continually occupied my mind. .When sleep
overpowered me I dreamed of them — dreamed I was
again in Saratoga — that I could see their faces, and
hear their voices calling me. Awakening from the
pleasant phantasms of sleep to the bitter realities
around me, I could but groan and weep. Still my
spirit was not broken. I indulged the anticipation of
escape, and that speedily. It was impossible, I rea-
soned, that men could be so unjust as to detain me as
a slave, when the truth of my case was known.
Burch, ascertaining I was no runaway from Georgia,
would certainly let me go. Though suspicions of
48 TWELVE YEARS A STAVE.
Brown and Hamilton were not unfrequent, I could
not reconcile myself to the idea that they were in-
strumental to my imprisonment. Surely they would
seek me out — they would deliver me from thraldom.
Alas ! I had not then learned the measure of " man's
inhumanity to man," nor to what limitless extent of'
wickedness he will go for the love of gain.
In the course of several days the outer door was
thrown open, allowing me the liberty of the yard.
There I found three slaves ■ — one of them a lad of ten
years, the others young men of about twenty and
twenty-five. I was not long in forming an acquaint-
ance, and learning their names and the particulars of
The eldest was a c olored man named Clemens R ay.
He had lived in Washington ; had driven a hack, ancl
worked in a livery stable there for a long time. He
was very intelligent, and fully comprehended his sit-
uation. The thought of going south overwhelmed
him with grief. Bnrch had purchased him a few
days before, and had placed him there until such time
as he was ready to send him to the ISTew-Orleans mar
ket. From him I learned for the first time that I was
in William's Slave Pen t a place I had never heard of
previously. He described to me the uses for which
it was designed. I repeated to him the particulars of
my unhappy story, but lie could only give me the
consolation of his sympathy. He also advised me to
be silent henceforth on the subject of my freedom;
for, knowing the character of Burch, he assured me
RAY, WILLIAMS AND KAJSTDALL. 49
that it would only be attended with renewed whip-
ping. The next elde st jvas named John "Williams. He
was raised in Virginia, not far from Washington.
Burch had taken him in payment of a debt, and ho
constantly entertained the hope that his master would
redeem him — a hope that was subsequently realized.
1^ )9. lfl.^j x vfls a sprightly child, that answered to the
name o f Randall . Most of the time he was playing
about the yard, but occasionally would cry, calling
for his mother, and wondering when she would come.
His mother's absence seemed to be the great and only
grief in his little heart. He was too young to realize
his condition, and when the memory of his mother
was not in his mind, he amused us with his pleasant
At night, Kay, Williams, and the boy, slept in the
loft of the shed, while I was locked in the cell. Fi-
nally we were each provided with blankets, such as
are used upon horses — the only bedding I was allow-
ed to have for twelve years afterwards. Ray and
Williams asked me many questions about Kew-York
— how colored people were treated there ; how they
could have homes and families of their own, with none
to disturb and oppress them ; and Ray, especially,
sighed continually for freedom. Such conversations,
however, were not in the hearing of Burch, or the
keeper Eadburn. Aspirations such as these would
have brought down the lash upon our backs.
It is necessary in this narrative, in order to present
a full and truthful statement of all the principal events
SO TWELVE YEAES A SLAVE.
in the history of my lii'e, and to portray the institu
tion of Slavery as I have seen and known it, to speak
of well-known places, and of many persons who are
yet living. I am, and always was, an entire stranger
in Washington and its vicinity — aside from Burch
and Radburn, knowing no man there, except as I have
heard of them through my enslaved companions.
"What I am about to say, if false, can be easily con-
I remained in Williams' slave pen abont two
weeks. The night previous to my departure a woman
was brought in, weeping bitterly, and leading by the
hand a little child. They were Randall's mother and
half-sister. On meeting them he was overjoyed,
clinging to her dress, kissing the child, and exhibit-
ing every demonstration of delight. The mother also
clasped him in her arms, embraced him tenderly, and
gazed at him fondly through her tears, calling him by
many an endearing name.
Emily, the child, was seven or eight years old, of
light complexion, and w T ith a face of admirable beau-
ty. Her hair fell in curls around her neck, while the
style and richness of her dress, and the neatness of
her whole appearance indicated she had been brought
up in the midst of wealth. She was a sweet child
indeed. The woman also was arrayed in silk, with
rings upon her fingers, and golden ornaments sus-
pended from her ears. Her air and manners, the cor-
rectness and propriety of her language — all showed,
evidently, that she had sometime stood above the
MATERNAL SORROWS. 51
common level of a slave. She seemed to "be amazed
at finding herself in such a place as that. It was
plainly a suclden^and unexpected turn of fortune that
had brouo'ht her there. Filling the air with her com-
plainings, she was hustled, with the children and my-
self, into the cell. Language can convey but an inad-
equate impression of the lamentations to which she
gave incessant utterance. Throwing herself upon the
floor, and encircling the children in her arms, she
poured forth such touching words as only maternal
love and kindness can suggest. They nestled closely
to her, as if there only was there any safety or pro-
tection. At last they slept, their heads resting upon
her lap. While they slumbered, she smoothed the
hair back from their little foreheads, and talked to
them all night long. She called them her darlings —
her sweet babes — poor innocent things, that knew
not the misery they were destined to endure. Soon
they would have no mother to comfort them — they
would be taken from her. "What would become of
them ? Oh ! she could not live away from her little
Emmy and her dear boy. They had always been
good children, and had such loving ways. It would
break her heart, God knew, she said, if they were ta-
ken from her ; and yet she knew they meant to sell
them, and, may be, they would be separated, and
could never see each other any more. It was enough
to melt a heart of stone to listen to the pitiful ex-
pressions of that desolate and distracted mother. Her
52 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
name was Eliz a ; and tins was the story of her life, as
she afterwards related it :
She was th e slave of Elisha "Berrv L a rich man, liv-
ing in the neighborhood of "Washington. She was
born, I think she said, on his plantation. Years be-
fore, he had fallen into dissipated habits, and quarrel-
ed with his wife. In fact, soon after the birth of
Randall, they separated. Leaving his wife and daugh-
ter in the house they had always occupied, he erected
a new one near by, on the estate. Into this house he
brought Eliza ; and, on condition of her living with
him, she and her children were to be emancipated.
She resided with him there nine years, with servants
to attend upon her, and provided with every comfort
and luxury of life. Emily was his child ! Finally,
her young mistress, who had always remained with
her mother at the homestead, married a Mr. Jacob
Brooks. At length, for some cause, (as I gathered
from her relation,) beyond Berry's control, a division
of his property was made. She and her children fell
to the share of Mr. Brooks. During the nine years
she had lived with Berry, in consequence of the posi-
tion she was compelled to occupy, she and Emily had
become the object of Mrs. Berry and her daughter's
hatred and dislike. Berry himself she represented as
a man of naturally a kind heart, who always promis-
ed her that she should have her freedom, and who,
she had no doubt, would grant it to her then, if it
were only in his power. As soon as they thus came
THE STORY OF ELIZA. 53
into the possession and control of the daughter, it be-
came very manifest they would not live long together.
The sight of Eliza seemed to be odious to Mrs. Brooks ;
neither could she bear to look upon the child, half-
sister, and beautiful as she was !
The day she was led into the pen, Brooks had
brought her from the estate into the city, under pre-
tence that the time had come when her free papers
were to be executed, in fulfillment of her master's
promise. Elated at the prospect of immediate liber-
ty, she decked herself and little Emmy in their best
apparel, and accompanied him with a joyful heart.
On their arrival in the city, instead of being baptized
into the family of freemen, she was delivered to the
t vridnr "Ryiriih . The paper that was executed was a
bill of sale. The hope of years was blasted in a mo-
ment. From the hight of most exulting happiness
to the utmost depths of wretchedness, she had that
day descended. No wonder that she wept, and filled
the pen with wailings and expressions of heart-rend-
Eliza is now dead. Far up the Red River, where
it pours its waters sluggishly through the unhealthy
low lands of Louisiana, she rests in the grave at last —
the only resting place of the poor slave ! How all her
fears were realized — how she mourned day and night,
and never would be comforted' — how, as she predict-
ed, her heart did indeed break, with the burden of
maternal sorrow, will be seen as the narrative pro-
ELIZA'S SORROWS PREPARATION TO EMBARK DRIVEN THROUGH THE
STREETS OK WASHINGTON HAIL, COLUMBIA THE TOMB OF WASHING-
TON CLEM RAY THE BREAKFAST ON THE STEAMER THE HAPrT
BIRDS AQUIA CREEK FREDERICKSBURGH — 'ARRIVAL IN RICHMOND
GOODIN AND HIS SLAVE PEN ROBERT, OF CINCINNATI DAVID AND HIS
WIFE MART AND LETHE CLEM'S RETURN HIS SUBSEQUENT ESCAPE
TO CANADA THE BRIG ORLEANS JAMES H. BURCH.
At intervals during the first night of Eliza's incar-
ceration in the pen, she complained bitterly of Jacob
Brooks, her young mistress' husband. She declared
that had she been aware of the deception he intended
to practice upon her, he never would have brought
her there alive. They had chosen the opportunity of
getting her away when Master Berry was absent from
the plantation. He had always been kind to her.
She wished that she could see him ; but she knew that
even he was unable now to rescue her. Then would
she commence weeping again — kissing the sleeping
children — talking first to one, then to the other, as
they lay in their unconscious slumbers, with their
heads upon her lap. So wore the long night away ;
and when the morning dawned, and night had come
again, still she kept mourning on, and would not be
PREPARATION TO EMEARK. 55
About midnight following, the cell door opened,
and Burch and Radburn entered, with lanterns in
their hands. Bnrch, with an oath, ordered us to roll
up our blankets without delay, and get ready to go
on board the boat. He swore we would be left unless
we hurried fast. He aroused the children from their
slumbers with a rough shake, and said they were
d — d sleepy, it appeared. Going out into the yard,
he called Clem Ray, ordering him to leave the loft
and come into the cell, and bring his blanket with
him. When Clem appeared, he placed us side by
side, and fastened us together with hand-cuffs — my
left hand to his right. John Williams had been ta-
ken out a day or two before, his master having
redeemed him, greatly to his delight. Clem and I
were ordered to march, Eliza and the children fol-
lowing. We were conducted into the yard, from
thence into the covered passage, and up a flight of
steps through a side door into the upper room, where
I had heard the walking to and fro. Its furniture was
a stove, a few old chairs, and a long table, covered
with papers. It was a white-washed room, without
any carpet on the floor, and seemed a sort of office.
By one of the windows, I remember, hung a rusty
sword, which attracted my attention. Burch's trunk
was there. In obedience to his orders, I took hold of
one of its handles with my unfettered hand, while he
taking hold of the other, we proceeded out of the
front door into the street in the same order as we had
left the cell.
66 TWELVE TEAKS A SLAVE.
It was a dark night. All was quiet. I could see
lights, or the reflection of them, over towards Penn-
sylvania Avenue, but there was no one, not even a
straggler, to be seen. I was almost resolved to at-
tempt to break away. Had I not been hand-cuffed
the attempt would certainly have been made, what-
ever consequence might have followed. Radburn
was in the rear, carrying a large stick, and hurrying
lip the children as fast as the little ones could walk.
So we passed, hand-cuffed and in silence, through the
streets of Washington — through the Capital of a na-
tion, whose theory of government, we are told, rests
on the foundation of man's inalienable right to life,
'liberty, and the pursuit of happiness ! Hail ! Co-
lumbia, happy land, indeed !
Beaching the steamboat, we were quickly hustled
into the hold, among barrels and boxes of freight. A
colored servant brought a light, the bell rung, and
soon the vessel started down the Potomac, carrying
us we knew not where. The bell tolled as we passed
the tomb of "Washington ! Burch, no doubt, with un-
covered head, bowed reverently before the sacred ash-
es of the man who devoted his illustrious life to the
liberty of his country.
None of us slept that night but Randall and little
Emmy. For the first time Clem Pay was wholly
overcome. To him the idea of going south was ter ■
rible in the extreme. He was leaving the friends and
associations of his youth ■ — ■ every thing that was dear
and precious to his heart — in all probability never
BREAKFAST ON THE STEAMER. 57
to return. He and Eliza mingled their tears together,
bemoaning their cruel fate. For my own part, diffi-
cult as it was, I endeavored to keep up my spirits. I
resolved in my mind a hundred plans of escape, and
fully determined to make the attempt the first despe-
rate chance that offered. I had by this time become
satisfied, however, that my true policy was to say no-
thing further on the subject of my having been born a
freeman. It would but expose me to mal-treatment,
and diminish the chances of liberation.
After sunrise in the morning we were called up on
deck to breakfast. Burch took our hand-cuffs off, and
we sat down to table. He asked Eliza if she would
take a dram. She declined, thanking him politely.
During the meal we were all silent — not a word pass-
ed between us. A mulatto woman who served at ta-
ble seemed to take an interest in our behalf — told us
to cheer up, and not to be so cast down. Breakfast
over, the hand-cuffs were restored, and Burch ordered
us out on the stern deck. We sat down together on
some boxes, still saying nothing in Burch's presence.
Occasionally a passenger would walk out to where
we were, look at us for a while, then silently return.
It was a very pleasant morning. The fields along
the river were covered with verdure, far in advance
of what I had been accustomed to see at that season
of the year. The sun shone out warmly ; the birds
were singing in the trees. The happy birds — I en-
vied them. I wished for wings like them, that I
might cleave the air to where my birdlings waited
53 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
vainly for their father's coming, in the cooler region
of the North.
In the forenoon the steamer reached Aquia Creek.
There the passengers took stages — Burch and his five
slaves occupying one exclusively. He laughed with
the children, and at one stopping place went so far as
to purchase them a piece of gingerbread. He told
me to hold up my head and look smart. That I
might, perhaps, get a good master if I behaved my-
self. I made him no reply. His face was hateful to
me, and I could not bear to look upon it. I sat in
the corner, cherishing in my heart the hope, not yet
extinct, of some day meeting the tyrant on the soil of
my native State.
At Fredericksburo-h we were transferred from the
stage coach to a car, and before dark arrived in Rich-
mond, the chief city of Yirginia. At this city we
were taken from the cars, and driven through the
street to a slave pen, between the railroad depot and
the river, kept by a Mr. Gooclin. This pen is similar
to Williams' in "Washington, except it is somewhat
larger; and besides, there were two small houses
standing at opposite corners within the yard. These
houses are susually found within slave yards, being
used as rooms for the examination of human chattels
by purchasers before concluding a bargain. Un-
soundness in a slave, as well as in a horse, detracts
materially from his value. If no warranty is given,
a close examination is a matter of particular impor-
tance to the negro jockey.
GOODIN AND HIS SLAVE PEN. 59
"We were met at the door of Goodin's yard by that
gentleman himself — a short, fat man, with a round,
plump face, black hair and whiskers, and a complex-
ion almost as dark as some of his own negroes. He
had a hard, stern look, and was perhaps about fifty
years of age. Burch and he met with great cordiali-
ty. They were evidently old friends. Shaking each
other warmly by the hand, Burch remarked he had
brought some company, inquired at what time the
brig would leave, and was answered that it would
probably leave the next day at such an hour. Good-
in then turned to me, took hold of my arm, turned
me partly round, looked at me sharply with the air of
one who considered himself a good judge of property,
and as if estimating in his own mind about how
much I was worth.
" Well, boy, where did you come from ?"
Forgetting myself, for a moment, I answered,
" From New-York."
" New- York ! H — 1 ! what have you been doing
up there ?" was his astonished interrogatory.
Observing Burch at this moment looking at me with
an angry expression that conveyed a meaning it was
not difficult to understand, I immediately said, " O, i
have only been up that way a piece," in a manner
intended to imply that although I might have been as
far as New- York, yet I wished it distinctly understood
that I did not belong to that free State, nor to any
Goodin then turned to Clem, and then to Eliza and
60 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
the children, examining them severally, and asking
various questions. He was pleased with Emily, as
was every one who saw the child's sweet countenance.
She was not as tidy as when I first beheld her ; her
hair was now somewhat disheveled ; but through its
unkempt and soft profusion there still beamed a little
face of most surpassing loveliness. " Altogether we
were a fair lot — a devilish good lot," he said, enforc-
ing that opinion with more than one emphatic adjec-
tive not found in the Christian vocabulary. Thereup-
on we passed into the yard. Quite a number of
slaves, as many as thirty I should say, were moving
about, or sitting on benches under the shed. They
were all cleanly dressed — the men with hats, the wo-
men with handkerchiefs tied about their heads.
Burch and Goodin, after separating from us, walk-
ed up the steps at the back part of the main building,
and sat down upon the door sill. They entered into
conversation, but the subject of it I could not hear.
Presently Burch came down into the yard, unfettered
rne, and led me into one of the small houses.
" You told that man you came from New- York,"
I replied, " I told him I had been up as far as New-
York, to be sure, but did not tell him I belonged
there, nor that I was a freeman. I meant no harm at
all, Master Burch. I would not have said it had I
He looked at me a moment as if he was ready to
devour me, then turning round went out. In a few
KQBEKT, OF CINCINNATI. 61
minutes he returned. " If ever I hear you say a word
about ISTew-York, or about your freedom, I will be the
death of you — I will kill you ; you may rely on
that," he ejaculated fiercely.
I doubt not he understood then better than I did,
the danger and the penalty of selling a free man into
slavery. He felt the necessity of closing my mouth
against the crime he knew he was committing. Of
course, my life would not have weighed a feather, in
any emergency requiring such a sacrifice. Undoubt-
edly, he meant precisely what he said.
Under the shed on one side of the yard, there was
constructed a rough table, while overhead were sleep-
ing lofts — the same as in the pen at "Washington. Af-
ter partaking at this table of our supper of pork and
bread, I was hand-cuffed to a large yellow man, quite
stout and fleshy, with a countenance expressive of
the utmost melancholy. He was a man of intelli-
gence and information. Chained together, it was not
•long before we became acquainted with each other's
history. His name was Robert. Like myself, he
had been born free, and had a wife and two chil-
dren in Cincinnati. He said he had come south with
two men, who had hired him in the city of his resi-
dence. Without free papers, he had been seized at
Fredericksburgh, placed in confinement, and beaten
until he had learned, as I had, the necessity and the
policy of silence. He had been in Goodin's pen
about three weeks. To this man I became much
attached. "We could sympathize with, and understand
62 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
each other. It was with tears and a heavy heart,
not many clays subsequently, that I saw him die, and
looked for the last time upon his lifeless form !
Robert and myself, with Clem, Eliza and her chil-
dren, slept that night upon our blankets, in one of the
small houses in the yard. There were four others, all
from the same plantation, who had been sold, and
were now on their way south, who also occupied it
with us. David and his wife, Caroline, both mulat-
toes, were exceedingly affected. They . dreaded the
thought of being put into the cane and cotton fields ;
but their greatest source of anxiety was the apprehen-
sion of being separated. Mary, a tall, lithe girl, of a
most jetty black, was listless and apparently indiffer-
ent. Like many of the class, she scarcely knew there
was such a word as freedom. Brought up in the ig-
norance of a brute, she possessed but little more than
a brute's intelligence. She was one of those, and
there are very many, who fear nothing but their mas-
ter's lash, and know no further duty than to obey his
voice. The other was Lethe. She was of an entirely
different character. She had long, straight hair, and
bore more the appearance of an Indian than a negro
woman. She had sharp and spiteful eyes, and con-
tinually gave utterance to the language of hatred
and revenge. Her husband had been sold. She
knew not where she was. An exchange of masters,
she was sure, could not be for the worse. She cared
not whither they might carry her. Pointing to the
scars upon her face, the desperate creature wished
CLEM EAT. 63
that she might see the day when she could wipe them
off in some man's blood !
"While we were thus learning the history of each
other's wretchedness, Eliza was seated in a corner by
herself, singing hymns and praying for her children.
"Wearied from the loss of so much sleep, I could no
longer bear up against the advances of that " sweet
restorer," and laying down by the side of Robert, on
the floor, soon forgot my troubles, and slept until the
dawn of day.
In the morning, having swept the yard, and wash-
ed ourselves, under Goodin's superintendence, we
were ordered to roll up our blankets, and make ready
for the continuance of our journey. Clem Ray was
informed that he would go no further, Burch, for some
cause, having concluded to carry him back to Wash-
ington. He was much rejoiced. Shaking hands, we
parted in the slave pen at Richmond, and I have not
seen him since. But, much to my surprise, since my
return, I learned that he had escaped from bondage,
and on his way to the free soil of Canada, lodged one
night at the house of my brother-in-law in Saratoga,
informing my family of the place and the condition
in which he left me.
In the afternoon we were drawn up, two abreast,
Robert and myself in advance, and in this order, driv-
en by Burch and Goodin from the yard, through the
streets of Richmond to the brig Orleans. She was
a vessel of respectable size, full rigged, and freighted
principally with tobacco. We were all on board by
TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
ve o'clock. Burcli brought us each a tin cup and a
spoon. There were forty of us in the brig, being all,
except Clem, that were in the pen.
"With a small pocket knife that had not been taken
from me, I began cutting the initials of my name
upon the tin cup. The others immediately flocked
round me, requesting me to mark theirs in a similar
manner. In time, I gratified them all, of which they
did not appear to be forgetful.
We were all stowed away in the hold at night, and
the hatch barred down. We laid on boxes, or where-
ever- there was room enough to stretch our blankets
on the floor.
Burch accompanied us no farther than Richmond,
returning from that point to the capital with Clem.
!Not until the lapse of almost twelve years, to wit, in
January last, in the Washington police office, did I
set my eyes upon his face again.
// James H. Burch was a slave-trader — buying men,
women and children at low prices, and selling them
at an advance. He was a speculator in human flesh
— a disreputable calling — and so considered at the
South. For the present he disappears from the scenes
recorded in this narrative, but he will appear again
before its close, not in the character of a man-whip-
ping tyrant, but as an arrested, cringing criminal in
a court of law, that failed to do him justice.
ARRIVAL AT NORFOLK FREDERICK AND MARIA ARTHUR, THE FREEMAN
APPOINTED STEWARD JIM, CUFFEE, AND JENNY THE STORM BA-
HAMA BANKS THE CALM THE CONSPIRACY THE LONG BOAT THE
SMALL-POX DEATH OF ROBERT MANNING, THE SAILOR THE MEETING
IN THE FORECASTLE THE LETTER ARRIVAL AT NEW-ORLEANS AR-
THUR'S RESCUE THEOPHILUS FREEMAN, THE CONSIGNEE PLATT FIRST
NIGHT IN THE NEW-ORLEANS SLATE PEN.
•After we were all on board, the brig Orleans pro-
ceeded down James River. Passing into Chesapeake
Bay, we arrived next day opposite the city of JSTor-
folk. While lying at anchor, a lighter approached
us from the town, bringing four more slaves. Frede-
rick, a boy of eighteen, had been born a slave, as also
had Henry, who was some years older. They had
both been house servants in the city. Maria was a
rather genteel looking colored girl, with a faultless
form, but ignorant and extremely vain. The idea of
going to New-Orleans was pleasing to her. She en-
tertained an extravagantly high opinion of her own
attractions. Assuming a haughty mien, she declared
to her companions, that immediately on our arrival
in ISTew-Orleans, she had no doubt, some wealthy sin-
gle gentleman of good taste would purchase her at
GQ TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
But the most prominent of the four, was a man
named Arthur. As the lighter approached, he strug-
gled stoutly with his keepers. It was with main
force that he was dragged aboard the brig. He pro-
tested, in a loud voice, against the treatment he was
receiving, and demanded to be released. His face
was swollen, and covered with wounds and bruises,
and, indeed, one side of it was a complete raw sore.
He was forced, with all haste, down the hatchway
into the hold. I caught an outline of his story as he
was borne struggling along, of which he afterwards
gave me a more full relation, and it was as follows :
He had long resided in the city of Norfolk, and was
a free man. He had a family living there, and was a
mason by trade. Having been unusually detained,
he was returning late one night to his house in the
suburbs of the city, when he was attacked by a gang
of persons in an unfrequented street. He fought
until his strength failed him. Overpowered at last,
he was gagged and bound with ropes, and beaten,
until he became insensible. For several days they
secreted him in the slave pen at Norfolk — a very
common establishment, it appears, in the cities of the
South. The night before, he had been taken out and
put on board the lighter, which, pushing out from
shore, had nwaited our arrival. For some time he
continued his protestations, and was altogether irrec-
oncilable. At length, however, he became silent.
He sank into a gloomy and thoughtful mood, and ap-
peared to be counseling with himself. There was in
JIM, CTjTFEE and jenny. 67
the man's determined face, something that suggested
the thought of desperation.
After leaving Norfolk the hand-cuffs were taken
off, and during the day we were allowed to remain
on deck. The captain selected Robert as his waiter,
and I was appointed to superintend the cooking de-
partment, and the distribution of food and water. I
had three assistants, Jim, Cuffee and Jenny. Jenny's
business was to prepare the coffee, which consisted of
corn meal scorched in a kettle, boiled and sweetened
with molasses. Jim and Cuffee baked the hoe-cake
and boiled the bacon.
Standing by a table, formed of a wide board rest-
ing on the heads of the barrels, I cut and handed to
each a slice of meat and a " dodger" of the bread,
and from Jenny's kettle also clipped out for each a
cup of the coffee. The use of plates was dispensed
with, and their sable fingers took the place of knives
and forks. Jim and Cuffee were very demure and
attentive to business, somewhat inflated with their
situation as second cooks, and without doubt feeling
that there was a great responsibility resting on them.
I was called steward — a name given me by the cap-
The slaves were fed twice a day, at ten and five
o'clock — always receiving the same kind and quantity
of fare, and in the same manner as above described.
At night we were driven into the hold, and securely
Scarcely were we out of sight of land before we
b8 TWELVE TEAKS A SLAVE.
were overtaken by a violent storm. The brig rolled
and plunged until we feared she would go down.
Some were sea-sick, others on their knees praying,
while some were fast holding to each other, paralyzed
with fear. The sea-sickness rendered the place of our
confinement loathsome and disgusting. It would
have been a happy thing for most of us — it would
have saved the agony of many hundred lashes, and
miserable deaths at last — had the compassionate sea
snatched us that day from the clutches of remorseless
men. The thought of Randall and little Emmy sink-
ing down among the monsters of the deep, is a more
pleasant contemplation than to think of them as they
are now, perhaps, dragging out lives of unrequited
When in sight of the Bahama Banks, at a place
called Old Point Compass, or the Hole in the Wall,
we were becalmed three days. There was scarcely a
breath of air. The waters of the gulf presented a
singularly white appearance, like lime water.
In the order of events, I come now to the relation
of an occurrence, which I never call to mind but with
sensations of regret. I thank God, who has since
permitted me to escape from the thralklom of slavery,
that through his merciful interposition I was prevent-
ed from imbruing my hands in the blood of his crea-
tures. Let not those who have never been placed in
like circumstances, judge me harshly. Until they
have been chained and beaten • — -until they find them-
selves in the situation I was, borne away from home
THE CONSPIRACY. 69
and family towards a land of bondage — let them re-
frain from saying what they would not do for liberty.
How far I should have been justified in the sight of
God and man, it is unnecessary now to speculate upon.
It is enough to say that I am able to congratulate
myself upon the harmless termination of an affair
which threatened, for a time, to be attended with se-
Towards evening, on the first day of the calm, Ar-
thur and myself were in the bow of the vessel, seat-
ed on the windlass. We were conversing together of
the probable destiny that awaited us, and mourning
together over our misfortunes. Arthur said, and I
agreed with him, that death was far less terrible than
the living prospect that was before us. For a long
time we talked of our children, our past lives, and of
the probabilities of escape. Obtaining possession of
the brig was suggested by one of us. We discussed
the possibility of our being able, in such an event, to
make our way to the harbor of New-York. I knew
little of the compass ; but the idea of risking the ex-
periment was eagerly entertained. The chances, for
and against us, in an encounter with the crew, was
canvassed Who could be relied upon, and who
could not, the proper time and manner of the attack,
were all talked over and over again. From the mo-
ment the plot suggested itself I began to hope. I
revolved it constantly in my mind. As difficulty af-
ter difficulty arose, some ready conceit was at hand,
demonstrating!; how it could be overcome. While
70 TWELVE YEAKS A SLAVE.
others slept, Arthur and I were maturing our plans.
At length, with much caution, Robert was gradually
made acquainted with our intentions. He approved
of them at once, and entered into the conspiracy with
a zealous spirit. There was not another slave we
dared to trust. Brought up in fear and ignorance as
they are, it can scarcely be conceived how servilely
they will cringe before a white man's look. It was
not safe to deposit so bold a secret with any of them,
and finally we three resolved to take upon ourselves
alone the fearful responsibility of the attempt.
At night, as has been said, we were driven into the
hold, and the hatch barred down. How to reach the
deck was the first difficulty that presented itself. On
the bow of the brig, however, I had observed the
small boat lying bottom upwards. It occurred to me
that by secreting ourselves underneath it, we would
not be missed from the crowd, as they were hurried
down into the hold at night. I was selected to make
the experiment, in order to satisfy ourselves of its fea-
sibility. The next evening, accordingly, after supper,
watching my opportunity, I hastily concealed myself
beneath it. Lying close upon the deck, I could see
what was going on around me, while wholly unper-
ceived myself. In the morning, as they came up, I
slipped from my hiding place without being observed.
The result Was entirely satisfactory.
The captain and mate slept in the cabin of the for-
mer. From Robert, who had frequent occasion, in
his capacity of waiter, to make observations in that
THE CONSPIRACY. 71
quarter, we ascertained the exact position of their
respective berths. He further informed us that there
were always two pistols and a cutlass lying on the
table. The crew's cook slept in the cook galley on
deck, a sort of vehicle on wheels, that could be mov-
ed about as convenience required, while the sailors,
numbering only six, either slept in the forecastle, or
in hammocks swung among the rigging.
Finally our arrangements were all completed. Ar-
thur and I were to steal silently to the captain's cab-
in, seize the pistols and cutlass, and as quickly as possi-
ble despatch him and the mate. Robert, with a club,
was to stand by the door leading from the deck down
into the cabin, and, in case of necessity, beat back the
sailors, until we could hurry to his assistance. We
were to proceed then as circumstances might require.
Should the attack be so sudden and successful as to
prevent resistance, the hatch was to remain barred
down ; otherwise the slaves were to be called up, and
in the crowd, and hurry, and confusion of the time,
we resolved to regain our liberty or lose our lives. I
was then to assume the unaccustomed place of pilot,
and, steering northward, we trusted that some lucky
wind might bear us to the soil of freedom.
The mate's name was Biddee, the captain's I can-
not now recall, though I rarely ever forget a name
once heard. The captain was a small, genteel man,
erect and prompt, with a proud bearing, and looked
the personification of courage. If he is still living,
and these pages should chance to meet his eye, he
12 TWELVE TEARS A SLAVE.
will learn a fact connected with, the voyage of the
brig, from Richmond to ]STew-Orleans, in 1841, not
entered on his log-book.
We were all prepared, and impatiently waiting an
opportunity of putting onr designs into execution,
when they were frustrated by a sad and unforeseen
event. Robert was taken ill. It was soon announced
that lie had the small-pox. He continued to grow
worse, and four days previous to our arrival inlSTew-
Orleans he died. One of the sailors sewed him in his
blanket, with a large stone from the ballast at his feet,
and then laying him on a hatchway, and elevating it
with tackles above the railing, the inanimate body of
poor Robert was consigned to the white waters of the
We were all panic-stricken by the appearance of
the small-pox. The captain ordered lime to be scat-
tered through the hold, and other prudent precau-
tions to be taken. The death of Robert, however, and
the presence of the malady, oppressed me sadly, and
I gazed out over the great waste of waters with a
spirit that was indeed disconsolate.
An evening or two after Robert's burial, I was
leaning on the hatchway near the forecastle, full of
desponding thoughts, when a sailor in a kind voice
asked me why I was so down-hearted. The tone and
manner of the man assured me, and I answered, be-
cause I was a freeman, and had been kidnapped.
He remarked that it was enough to make any one
down-hearted, and continued to interrogate me until
MANNING, THE SAILOR. - 73
he learned tlie particulars of my whole history. He
was evidently much interested in my behalf, and, in
the blunt speech of a sailor, swore he would aid me
all he could, if it " split his timbers." I requested
him to furnish me pen, ink and paper, in order that I
might write to some of my friends. He promised to
obtain them — but how I could use them undiscover-
ed was a difficulty. If I could only get into the fore-
castle while his watch was off, and the other sailors
asleep, the thing could be accomplished. The small
boat instantly occurred to me. He thought we were
not far from the Balize, at the mouth of the Mississip-
pi, and it was necessary that the letter be written
soon, or the opportunity would be lost. Accordingly,
by arrangement, I managed the next night to secret
myself again under the long-boat. His watch was off
at twelve. I saw him pass into the forecastle, and in
about an hour followed him. He was nodding over
a table, half asleep, on which a sickly light was flick-
ering, and on which also was a pen and sheet of pa-
per. As I entered he aroused, beckoned me to a seat
beside him, and pointed to the paper. I directed the
letter to Henry B. Northup, of Sandy Hill — stating
that I had been kidnapped, was then on board the
brig Orleans, bound for ISTew-Orleans ; that it was
then impossible for me to conjecture my ultimate des-
tination, and requesting lie would take measures to
rescue me. The letter was sealed and directed, and
Manning, having read it, promised to deposit it in the
New-Orleans post-office. I hastened back to my place
7-i TWELVE TEAKS A SLAVE.
under the long-boat, and in the morning, as the slaves
came up and were walking round, crept out unno-
ticed and mingled with them.
My good friend, whose name was John Manning,
was an Englishman by birth, and a noble-hearted,
generous sailor as ever walked a deck. He had lived
in Boston — was a tall, well-built man, about twenty-
four years old, with a face somewhat pock-marked,
but full of benevolent expression.
Nothing to vary the monotony of our daily life oc-
curred, until we reached New-Orleans. On coming
to the levee, and before the vessel was made fast, I
saw Manning leap on shore and hurry away into the
city. As he- started off he looked back over his shoul-
der significantly, giving me to understand the object
of his errand. Presently he returned, and passing
close by me, hunched me with his elbow, with a pe-
culiar wink, as much as to say, " it is all right."
The letter, as I have since learned, reached Sandy
Hill. Mr. North up visited Albany and laid it before
Governor Seward, but inasmuch as it gave no definite
information as to my probable locality, it was not, at
that time, deemed advisable to institute measures for
my liberation. It was concluded to delay, trusting
that a knowledge of where I was might eventually be
A happy and touching scene was witnessed imme-
diately upon our reaching the levee. Just as Man-
ning left the brig, on his way to the post-office, two
men came up and called aloud for Arthur. The lat-
akthur's rescue. 75
ter, as he recognized tliem, was almost crazy with de-
light. He could hardly be restrained from leaping
over the brig's side ; and when they met soon after,
he grasped them by the hand, and clung to them a
long, long time. They were men from Norfolk, who
had come on to New-Orleans to rescue him. His
kidnappers, they informed him, had been arrested,
and were then confined in the Norfolk prison. They
conversed a few moments with the captain, and then
departed with the rejoicing Arthur.
But in all the crowd that thronged the wharf, there
was no one who knew or cared for me. Not one.
No familiar voice greeted my ears, nor was there a
single face that I had ever seen. Soon Arthur would
rejoin his family, and have the satisfaction of seeing
his wrongs avenged : my family, alas, should I ever
see them more ? There was a feeling of utter deso-
lation in my heart, filling it with a despairing and re-
gretful sense, that I had not gone down with Robert
to the bottom of the sea.
Very soon traders and consignees came on board.
One, a tall, thin-faced man, with light complexion
and a little bent, made his appearance, with a paper
in his hand. Burch's gang, consisting of myself, Eli-
za and her children, Harry, Lethe, and some others,
who had joined us at Richmond, were consigned to
him. This gentleman was Mr. Theophilus Freeman.
Reading from his paper, he called, " Piatt." No one
answered. The name was called again and again, but
still there was no reply. Then Lethe was called, then
76 TWELVE TEAKS A SLATE.
Eliza, then Harry, until the list was finished, each
one stepping forward as his or her name was called.
" Captain, where's Piatt V demanded Theophilus
The captain was unable to inform him, no one be-
ing on board answering to that name.
"Who shipped thai nigger?" he again inquired of
the captain, pointing to me.
" Burch," replied the captain.
" Your name is Piatt — you answer my description.
Why don't you come forward ?" he demanded of me,
in an angry tone.
I informed him that was not my name ; that I had
never been called by it, but that I had no objection
to it as I knew of.
" "Well, I will learn you your name," said he ; " and
so you won't forget it either, by ," he added.
Mr. Theophilus Freeman, by the way, was not a
whit behind his partner, Burch, in the matter of blas-
phemy. On the vessel I had gone by the name of
" Steward," and this was the first time I had ever
been designated as Piatt — the name forwarded by
Burch to his consignee. From the vessel I observ-
ed the chain-gang at work on the levee. We passed
near them as we were driven to Freeman's slave pen.
This pen is very similar to Goodin's in Richmond, ex-
cept the yard was enclosed by plank, standing up-
right, with ends sharpened, instead of brick walls.
Including us, there were now at least fifty in this
pen. Depositing our blankets in one of the small
FIRST MIGHT IN NEW-ORLEANS. 77
buildings in the yard, and having been called up and
fed, we were allowed to saunter about the enclosure
until night, when we wrapped our blankets round us
and laid down under the shed, or in the loft, or in the
open yard, just as each one preferred.
It was but a short time I closed ray eyes that night.
Thought was busy in ray brain. Could it be possible
that I was thousands of miles from home — that I had
been driven through the streets like a dumb beast — ■
that I had been chained and beaten without mercy —
that I was even then herded with a drove of slaves, a
slave myself? Were the events of the last few weeks
realities indeed ? — or was I passing only through the
dismal phases of a long, protracted dream ? It was
no illusion. My cup of sorrow was full to overflow-
ing. Then I lifted up my hands to God, and in the
still watches of the night, surrounded by the sleeping
forms of my companions, begged for mercy on the
poor, forsaken captive. To the Almighty Father of
us all — the freeman and the slave — I poured forth
the supplications of a broken spirit, imploring strength
from on high to bear up against the burden of my
troubles, until the morning light aroused the slumber-
ers, ushering in another day of bondage.
freeman* s industry cleanliness and clothes exercising in the
show room the dance bob, the fiddler arrival of custom-
ers slaves examined the old gentleman of new-orleans
sale of david, caroline and lethe parting of randall and
eliza small pox the hospital recovery and return to
freeman's slave pen the purchaser of eliza, harry and platt
— eliza's agony on parting from little emily.
The very amiable, pious-hearted Mr. Theophilus
Freeman, partner or consignee of James II. Burch,
and keeper of the slave pen in New-Orleans, was out
among his animals early in the morning. With an
occasional kick of the older men and women, and
many a sharp crack of the whip about the ears of the
younger slaves, it was not long before they were all
astir, and wide awake. Mr. Theophilus Freeman
bustled about in a very industrious manner, getting
his property ready for the sales-room, intending, no
doubt, to do that day a rousing business.
In the first place we were required to wash thorough-
ly, and those with beards, to shave. TTe were then
furnished with a new suit each, cheap, but clean.
The men had hat, coat, shirt, pants and shoes ; the
women frocks of calico, and handkerchiefs to bind
about their heads. ~We were now conducted into a
large room in the front part of the building to which
freeman's industry. 79
the yard was attached, in order to be properly trained,
before the admission of customers. The men were
arranged on one side of the room, the women on the
other. The tallest was placed at the head of the row,
then the next tallest, and so on in the order of their
respective heights. Emily was at the foot of the
line of women. Freeman charged ns to remem-
ber our places ; exhorted us to appear smart and live-
ly, — sometimes threatening, and again, holding out
various inducements. During the day he exercised
us in the art of " looking smart," and of moving to
our places with exact precision.
After being fed, in the afternoon, we were again
paraded and made to dance. Bob, a colored boy,
who had some time belonged to Freeman, played on
the violin. Standing near him, I made bold to in-
quire if he could play the " Virginia Reel." He an-
swered he could not, and asked me if I could play.
Replying in the affirmative, he handed me the violin.
I struck up a tune, and finished it. Freeman ordered
me to continue playing, and seemed well pleased,
telling Bob that I far excelled him — a remark that
seemed to grieve my musical companion very much.
Next day many customers called to examine Free-
man's " new lot." The latter gentleman was very
loquacious, dwelling at much length upon our several
good points and qualities. He would make us hold
up our heads, walk briskly back and forth, while cus-
tomers would feel of our hands and arms and bodies,
turn lis about, ask us what we could do, make us open
80 TWELVE YEAJRS A SLAV'S.
our mouths and show our teeth, precisely as a jockey
examines a horse which he is about to barter for or
purchase. Sometimes a man or woman was taken
back to the small house in the yard, stripped, and in-
spected more minutely. Scars upon a slave's back
were considered evidence of a rebellious or unruly
spirit, and hurt his sale.
One old gentleman, who said he wanted a coach-
man, appeared to take a fancy to me. From his con-
versation with Burch, I learned he was a resident in
the city. I very much desired that he would buy me,
because I conceived it would not be difficult to make
rny escape from [New-Orleans on some northern vessel.
Freeman asked him fifteen hundred dollars for me.
The old gentleman insisted it was too much, as times
were very hard. Freeman, however, declared that I
was sound and healthy, of a good constitution, and
intelligent. He made it a point to enlarge upon my
musical attainments. The old gentleman argued
quite adroitly that there was nothing extraordinary
about the nigger, and finally, to my regret, went out,
saying he would call again. During the day, how-
ever, a number of sales were made. David and Car-
oline were purchased together by a Natchez planter.
They left us, grinning broadly, and in the most happy
state of mind, caused by the fact of their not being sep-
arated. Lethe was sold to a planter of Baton Rouge,
her eyes flashing with anger as she was led away.
The same man also purchased Randall. The little
fellow was made to jump, and run across the floor,
PARTING OF RANDALL AND ELIZA. 81
and perform many other feats, exhibiting his activity
and condition. All the time the trade was going on,
Eliza was crying aloud, and wringing her hands. She
besought the man not to buy him, unless he also
bought herself and Emily. She promised, in that case,
to be the most faithful slave that ever lived. The
man answered that he could not afford it, and then
Eliza burst into a paroxysm of grief, weeping plain-
tively. Freeman turned round to her, savagely, with
his whip in his uplifted hand, ordering her to stop her
noise, or he would flog her. He would not have such
work — such snivelling; and unless she ceased that
minute, he would take her to the yard and give her a
hundred lashes. Yes, he would take the nonsense out
of her pretty quick — if he didn't, might he be d — d.
Eliza shrunk before him, and tried to wipe away kei
tears, but it was all in vain. She wanted to be with
her children, she said, the little time she had to live.
All the frowns and threats of Freeman, could not
wholly silence the afflicted mother. She kept on beg-
ging and beseeching them, most piteously, not to sep-
arate the three. Over and over ao;ain she told them
how she loved her boy. A great many times she
repeated her former promises — how very faithful and
obedient she would be ; how hard she would labor
day and night, to the last moment of her life, if he
would only buy them all together. But it was of no
avail ; the man could not afford it. The bargain was
agreed upon, and Randall must go alone. Then Eli-
za, ran to him ; embraced him passionately ; kissed
82 TWELVE YEARS A SLATE.
him again and again; told him to remember her — ■
all the while her tears falling in the boy's face like rain.
Freeman damned her, calling her a blubbering,
bawling wench, and ordered her to go to her place,
and behave herself, and be somebody. He swore he
wouldn't stand such stuff but a little longer. He
would soon give her something to cry about, if she
was not mighty careful, and that she might depend
The planter from Baton Rouge, with his new pur-
chases, was ready to depart.
" Don't cry, mama. I will be a good boy. Don't
cry," said Randall, looking back, as they passed out
of the door.
"What has become of the lad, God knows. It was
a mournful scene indeed. I w T ould have cried myself
if I had dared.
That night, nearly all who came in on the brig Or-
leans, were taken ill. They complained of violent
pain in the head and back. Little Emily — a thing
unusual with her — cried constantly. In the morn-
ing a physician was called in, but was unable to de-
termine the nature of our complaint. While examin-
ing me, and asking questions touching my symptoms,
I gave it as my opinion that it was an attack of small-
pox — mentioning the fact of Robert's death as the
reason of my belief. It might be so indeed, he thought,
and he would send for the head physician of the hos-
pital. Shortly, the head physician came — a small,
light-haired man, whom they called Dr. Carr. He
pronounced it small-pox, whereupon there was much,
alarm throughout the yard. Soon after Dr. Carr left,
Eliza, Emmy, Harry and myself were put into a hack
and driven to the hospital — a large white marble
building, standing on the outskirts of the city. Har-
ry and I were placed in a room in one of the upper
stories. I became very sick. For three days I was
entirely blind. While lying in this state one day,
Bob came in, saying to Dr. Can* that Freeman had
sent him over to inquire how we were getting on.
Tell him, said the doctor, that Piatt is very bad, but
that if he survives until nine o'clock, he may recover.
I expected to die. Though there was little in the
prospect before me worth living for, the near approach
of death appalled me. I thought I could have been
resigned to yield up my life in the bosom of my family,
but to expire in the midst of strangers, under such
circumstances, was a bitter reflection.
There were a great number in the hospital, of both
sexes, and of all ages. In the rear of the building
coffins were manufactured. "When one died, the bell
tolled — a signal to the undertaker to come and bear
away the body to the potter's field. Many times, each
day and night, the tolling bell sent forth its melan-
choly voice, announcing another death. But my time
had not yet come. The crisis having passed, I began to
revive, and at the end of two weeks and two days,
returned with Harry to the pen, bearing upon my
face the effects of the malady, which to this day con-
tinues to disfigure it. Eliza and Emily were also
84 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
brought back next day in a hack, and again were we
paraded in the sales-room, for the inspection and ex-
amination of purchasers. I still indulged the hope
that the old gentleman in search of a coachman would
call again, as he had promised, and purchase me. In
that event I felt an abiding confidence that I would
soon regain my liberty. Customer after customer
entered, but the old gentleman never made his ap-
At length, one day, while we were in the yard,
Freeman came out and ordered us to our places, in
the great room. A gentleman was waiting for us as
we entered, and inasmuch as he will be often men-
tioned in the progress of this narrative, a description
of his personal appearance, and my estimation of his
character, at first sight, may not be out of place.
He was a man above the ordinary height, some-
what bent and stooping forward. He was a good-
looking man, and appeared to have reached about the
middle age of life. There was nothing repulsive in
his presence ; but on the other hand, there was some-
thing cheerful and attractive in his face, and in his
tone of voice. The finer elements were all kindly
mingled in his breast, as any one could see. He
moved about among us, asking many questions, as to
what we could do, and what labor we had been ac-
customed to ; if we thought we would like to live
with him, and would be good boys if he would buy
us, and other interrogatories of like character.
After some further inspection, and conversation
eliza's parting fkom emilt. 85
touching prices, he finally offered Freeman one thou-
sand dollars for me, nine hundred for Harry, and sev-
en hundred for Eliza. Whether the small-pox had
depreciated our value, or from what cause Freeman
had concluded to fall five hundred dollars from the
price I was before held at, I cannot say. At any rate,
after a little shrewd reflection, he announced his ac-
ceptance of the offer.
As soon as Eliza heard it, she was in an agony
again. By this time she had become haggard and
hollow-eyed with sickness and with sorrow. It would
be a relief if I could consistently pass over in silence
the scene that now ensued. It recalls memories more
mournful and affecting than any language can por-
tray. I have seen mothers kissing for the last time
the faces of their dead offspring ; I have seen them
looking down into the grave, as the earth fell with a
dull sound upon their coffins, hiding them from their
eyes forever ; but never have I seen such an exhibi-
tion of intense, unmeasured, and unbounded grief, as
when Eliza was parted from her child. She broke
from her place in the line of women, and rushing down
where Emily was standing, caught her in her arms.
The child, sensible of some impending danger, instinct-
ively fastened her hands around her mother's neck,
and nestled her little head upon her bosom. Free-
man sternly ordered her to be quiet, but she did not
heed him. He caught her by the arm and pulled her
rudely, but she only clung the closer to the child.
Then, with a volley of great oaths, he struck her such
bb TWELVE YEAKS A SLAVE.
a heartless blow, that she staggered backward, and
was like to fall. Oh ! how piteously then did she be-
seech and beg and pray that they might not be sepa-
rated. Why could they not be purchased together ?
Why not let her have one of her dear children ?
" Mercy, mercy, master ! " she cried, falling on her
knees. " Please, master, buy Emily. I can never
work any if she is taken from me : I will die."
Freeman interfered again, but, disregarding him,
she still plead most earnestly, telling how Randall had
been taken from her — how she never would see him
again, and now it was too bad — oh, God ! it was too
bad, too cruel, to take her away from Emily — her
pride — her only darling, that could not live, it was
so young, without its mother !
Finally, after much more of supplication, the pur-
chaser of Eliza stepped forward, evidently affected,
and said to Freeman he would buy Emily, and asked
him what her price was.
" What is her price f Buy her ?" was the respon-
sive interrogatory of Theophilus Freeman. And in-
stantly answering his own inquiry, he added, " I won't
sell her. She's not for sale.
The man remarked he was not in need of one so
young — that it would be of no profit to him, but
since the mother was so fond of her, rather than see
them separated, he would pay a reasonable price.
But to this humane proposal Freeman was entirely
deaf. He would not sell her then on any account
whatever. There were heaps and piles of money to
FREEMAN REFUSES TO SELL EMILY. 87
be made of her, lie said, when she was a few years
older. There were men enough in New-Orleans who
would give five thousand dollars for such an extra,
handsome, fancy piece as Emily would be, rather than
not get her. lS"o, no, he would not sell her then.
She was a beauty — a picture — a doll — ■ one of the
regular bloods — none of your thick-lipped, bullet-
headed, cotton-picking niggers — if she was might he
be d— d.
When Eliza heard Freeman's determination not to
part with Emily, she became absolutely frantic.
" I will not go without her. They shall not take
her from me," she fairly shrieked, her shrieks com-
mingling with the loud and angry voice of Freeman,
commanding her to be silent.
Meantime Harry and myself had been to the yard
and returned with our blankets, and were at the front
door ready to leave. Our purchaser stood near us,
gazing at Eliza with an expression indicative of re-
gret at having bought her at the expense of so much
sorrow. "We waited some time, when, finally, Free-
man, out of patience, tore Emily from her mother by
main force, the two clinging to each other with all
" Don't leave me, mama — don't leave me," scream-
ed the child, as its mother was pushed harshly for-
ward ; " Don't leave me — come back, mama," she still
cried, stretching forth her little arms imploringly.
But she cried in vain. Out of the door and into the
street we were quickly hurried. Still we could hear
88 TWELVE TEARS A SLAVE.
her calling to her mother, " Comeback — don't leave
me — come back, mama," until her infant voice grew
faint and still more faint, and gradually died away,
as distance intervened, and finally was wholly lost.
Eliza never after saw or heard of Emily or Randall.
Day nor night, however, were they ever absent from
her memory. In the cotton field, in the cabin, al-
ways and everywhere, she was talking of them — often
to them, as if they were actuall} r present. Only
when absorbed in that illusion, or asleep, did she ever
have a moment's comfort afterwards.
She was no common slave, as has been said. To a
large share of natural intelligence which she possess-
ed, was added a general knowledge and information
on most subjects. She had enjoyed opportunities such
as are afforded to very few of her oppressed class.
She had been lifted up into the regions of a higher
life. Freedom — freedom for herself and for her off-
spring, for many years had been her cloud by day,
her pillar of fire by night. In her pilgrimage through
the wilderness of bondage, with eyes fixed upon that
hope-inspiring beacon, she had at length ascended to
" the top of Pisgah," and beheld " the land of prom-
ise." In an unexpected moment she was utterly over-
whelmed with disappointment and despair. The glo-
rious vision of liberty faded from her sight as they led
her away into captivity. ISTow " she weepeth sore in
the night, and tears are on her cheeks : all her friends
have dealt treacherously with her : they have become
SEPERATION OF ELIZA AXD HER LAST CHILD.
THE STEAMBOAT RODOLPH DEPARTURE FROM NEW-ORLEANS "WILLIAM
FORD ARRIVAL AT ALEXANDRIA, ON RED RIVER RESOLUTIONS THE
GREAT PINE WOODS WILD CATTLE MARTIN'S SUMMER RESIDENCE
THE TEXAS ROAD ARRIVAL AT MASTER FORD'S ROSE MISTRESS
FORD SALLY, AND HER CHILDREN JOHN, THE COOK WALTER, SAM,
AND ANTONY THE MILLS ON INDIAN CREEK SABBATH DAYS
SAM'S CONVERSION THE PROFIT OF KINDNESS RAFTING ADAM TAT-
DEM, THE LITTLE WHITE MAN CASCALLA AND HIS TRIBE THE INDIAN
BALL JOHN M. TIBEATS THE STORM APPROACHING.
On leaving the New-Orleans slave pen, Harry and
I followed our new master through the streets, while
Eliza, crying and turning back, was forced along by
Freeman and his minions, until we found ourselves on
board the steamboat Rodolph, then lying at the levee.
In the course of half an hour we were moving briskly
up the Mississippi, bound for some point on Red Riv-
er. There were quite a number of slaves on board
beside ourselves, just purchased in the New-Orleans
market. I remember a Mr. Kelso w, who was said to
be a well known and extensive planter, had in charge
a gang of women.
Our master's name was William Ford. He resided
then in the " Great Pine TVoods," in the parish of
Avoyelles, situated on the right bank of Red River,
90 TWELVE YEAKS A SLATE.
in the heart of Louisiana. He is now a Baptist
preacher. Throughout the whole parish of Avoyelles,
and especially along both shores of Bayou Boeuf,
where he is more intimately known, he is accounted
by his fellow-citizens as a worthy minister of God.
In many northern minds, perhaps, the idea of a man
holding his brother man in servitude, and the traffic
in human flesh, may seem altogether incompatible
with their conceptions of a moral or religious life.
From descriptions of such men as Burch and Freeman,
and others hereinafter mentioned, they are led to de-
spise and execrate the whole class of slaveholders, in-
discriminately. But I was sometime his slave, and
had an opportunity of learning well his character and
disposition, and it is but simple justice to him when 1
» say, in my opinion, there never was a more kind, no-
ble, candid, Christian man than William Ford. The
influences and associations that had always surround-
ed him, blinded him to the inherent wrong at the bot-
tom of the system of Slavery. He never doubted the
moral right of one man holding another in subjection.
Looking through the same medium with his fathers
before him, he saw things in the same light. Brought
up under other circumstances and other influences,
his notions would undoubtedly have been different.
Nevertheless, he was a model master, walking up-
rightly, according to the light of his understanding,
and fortunate was the slave who came to his posses-
sion. Were all men such as he, Slavery would be de-
prived of more than half its bitterness.
WILLIAM FOED. 91
"We were two days and three nights on board the
steamboat Rodolph, during which time nothing of
particular interest occurred. I was now known as
Piatt, the name given me by Burch, and by which I
was designated through the whole period of my ser-
vitude. Eliza was sold by the name of " Dradey."
She was so distinguished in the conveyance to Ford,
now on record in the recorder's office in ISTew-Or-
On our passage I was constantly reflecting on my sit-
uation, and consulting with myself on the best course
to pursue in order to effect my ultimate escape.
Sometimes, not only then, but afterwards, I was al-
most on the point of disclosing fully to Ford the facts
of my history. I am inclined now to the opinion it
would have resulted in my benefit. This course was
often considered, but through fear of its miscarriage,
never put into execution, until eventually my transfer
and his pecuniary embarrassments rendered it evi-
dently unsafe. Afterwards, under other masters, un-
like William Ford, I knew well enough the slightest
knowledge of my real character would consign me at
once to the remoter depths of Slavery. I was too
costly a chattel to be lost, and was well aware that I
would be taken farther on, into some by-place, over
the Texan border, perhaps, and sold ; that I would be
disposed of as the thief disposes of his stolen horse, if
my right to freedom was even whispered. So I re-
solved to lock the secret closely in my heart — never
to utter one word or syllable as to who or what I was
92 TWELVE TEAKS A SLAVE.
— trusting in Providence and my own shrewdness for
At length Ave left the steamboat Rodolph at a place
called Alexandria, several hundred miles from Kew-
Orleans. It is a small town on the southern shore
of lied River. Having remained there over night,
we entered the morning train of cars, and were soon
at Bayou Lamourie, a still smaller place, distant
eighteen miles from Alexandria. At that time it was
the termination of the railroad. Ford's plantation
was situated on the Texas road, twelve miles from
Lamourie, in the Great Pine Woods. This distance, it
was announced to us, must be traveled on foot, there
being public conveyances no farther. Accordingly
we all set out in the company of Ford. It was an ex-
cessively hot day. Harry, Eliza, and myself were yet
weak, and the bottoms of our feet were very tender
from the effects of the small-pox. We proceeded
slowly, Ford telling us to take our time and sit clown
and rest whenever we desired — a privilege that was
taken advantage of quite frequently. After leaving
Lamourie and crossing two plantations, one belong-
ing to Mr. Carnell, the other to a Mr. Flint, we reach-
ed the Pine Woods, a wilderness that stretches to the
Sabine River. • .
The whole country about Red River is low and
marshy. The Pine Woods, as they are called, is com-
paratively upland, with frequent small intervals, how-
ever, running through them. This upland is covered
with numerous trees — the white oak, the chincopin,
AERTVAX, AT ALEXANDRIA. V6
resembling chestnut, but principally the yellow pine.
They are of great size, running up sixty feet, and per-
fectly straight. The woods were full of cattle, very
shy and wild, dashing away in herds, with a loud
snuff, at our approach. Some of them were marked
or branded, the rest appeared to be in their wild and
untamed state. They are much smaller than northern
breeds, and the peculiarity about them that most at-
tracted my attention was their horns. They stand
out from the sides of the head precisely straight, like
two iron spikes.
At noon we reached a cleared piece of ground con-
taining three or four acres. Upon it was a small, un-
painted, wooden house, a corn crib, or, as we would
say, a barn, and a log kitchen, standing about a rod
from the house. It was the summer residence of Mr.
Martin. Rich planters, having large establishments
on Bayou Boeuf, are accustomed to spend the warmer
season in these woods. Here they find clear water
and delightful shades. In fact, these retreats are to
the planters of that section of the country what New-
port and Saratoga are to the wealthier inhabitants of
We were sent around into the kitchen, and supplied
with sweet potatoes, corn-bread, and bacon, while
Master Ford dined with Martin in the house. There
were several slaves about the premises. Martin came
out and took a look at us, asking Ford the price of
each, if we were green hands, and so forth, and making
inquiries in relation to the slave market generally
94: TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
After a long rest we set forth again, following tne
Texas road, which had the appearance of being very
rarely traveled. For five miles we passed through
continuous woods without observing a single habita-
tion. At length, just as the sun was sinking in the
west, we entered another opening, containing some
twelve or fifteen acres.
In this opening stood a house much larger than Mr.
Martin's. It was two stories high, with a piazza in
front. In the rear of it was also a log kitchen, poul-
try house, corncribs, and several negro cabins. Near
the house was a peach orchard, and gardens of orange
and pomegranate trees. The space was entirely sur-
rounded by woods, and covered with a carpet of rich,
rank verdure. It was a quiet, lonely, pleasant place
— literally a green spot in the wilderness. It was the
residence of my master, "William Ford.
As we approached, a yellow girl — her name was
Rose — was standing on the piazza. Going to the
door, she called her mistress, who presently came run-
ning out to meet her lord. She kissed him, and
laughingly demanded if he had bought " those nig-
gers." Ford said he had, and told us to go round to
Sally's cabin and rest ourselves. Turning the corner
of the house, we discovered Sally washing — her two
baby children near her, rolling on the grass. They
jumped up and toddled towards us, looked at us a
moment like a brace of rabbits, then ran back to their
mother as if afraid of us.
Sally conducted us into the cabin, told us to lay down
ARRIVAL AT MASTER FORD'S. 95
our bundles and be seated, for sbe was sure that we were
tired. Just then John, the cook, a boy some sixteen
years of age, and blacker than any crow, came run-
ning in, looked steadily in our faces, then turning
round, without saying as much as "how d'ye do,"
ran back to the kitchen, laughing loudly, as if our
coming was a great joke indeed.
Much wearied with our walk, as soon as it was
dark, Harry and I wrapped our blankets round us,
and laid down upon the cabin floor. My thoughts,
as usual, wandered back to my wife and children.
The consciousness of my real situation ; the hopeless-
ness of any effort to escape through the wide forests
of Avoyelles, pressed heavily upon me, yet my heart
was at home in Saratoga.
I was awakened early in the morning by the voice
of Master Ford, calling Rose. She hastened into the
house to dress the children, Sally to the field to milk
the cows, while John was busy in the kitchen prepar-
ing breakfast. In the meantime Harry and I were
strolling about the yard, looking at our new quarters.
Just after breakfast a colored man, driving three yoke
of oxen, attached to a wagon load of lumber, drove
into the opening. He was a slave of Ford's, named
Walton, the husband of Rose. By the way, Rose was
a native of Washington, and had been brought from
thence live years before. She had never seen Eliza,
but she had heard of Berry, and they knew the same
streets, and the same people, either personally, or by
reputation. They became fast friends immediately,
96 TWELVE TEAKS A SLATE.
and talked a great deal together of old times, and of
friends they had left behind.
Ford was at that time a wealthy man. Besides his
seat in the Pine "Woods, he owned a large lumbering
establishment on Indian Creek, four miles distant, and
also, in his wife's right, an extensive plantation and
many slaves on Bayou Bceuf.
"Walton had come with his load of lumber from the
mills on Indian Creek. Ford directed us to return
with him, saying he would follow us as soon as possible.
Before leaving, Mistress Ford called me into the store-
room, and handed me, as it is there termed, a tin
bucket of molasses for Harry and myself.
Eliza was still ringing her hands and deploring the
loss of her children. Ford tried as much as possible
to console her — told her she need not work very hard ;
that she might remain with Rose, and assist the mad-
am in the house affairs.
Biding with Walton in the wagon, Harry and I be-
came quite well acquainted with him long before
reaching Indian Creek. He was a " born thrall " of
"* Ford's, and spoke kindly and affectionately of him, as
a child would speak of his own father. In answer to
his inquiries from whence I came, I told him from
Washington. Of that city, he had heard much from
his wife, Hose, and all the way plied me with many
extravagant and absurd questions.
On reaching the mills at Indian Creek, we found
two more of Ford's slaves, Sam and Antony. Sam,
also, was a Washingtonian, haTing been brought out
SABBATH DATS. 97
in the same gang with Rose. He had worked on a
farm near Georgetown. Antony was a blacksmith,
from Kentucky, who had been in his present master's
service about ten years. Sam knew Burch, and when
informed that he was the trader who had sent me on
from "Washington, it was remarkable how well we
agreed upon the subject of his superlative rascality.
He had forwarded Sam, also.
On Ford's arrival at the mill, we were employed in
piling lumber, and chopping logs, which occupation
we continued during the remainder of the summer.
"We usually spent our Sabbaths at the opening, on f
which days our master would gather all his slaves
about him, and read and expound the Scriptures.
He sought to inculcate in our minds feelings of kind-
ness towards each other, of dependence upon God —
setting forth the rewards promised unto those who
lead an upright and prayerful life. Seated in tho
doorway of his house, surrounded by his man-ser-
vants and his maid-servants, who looded earnestly into
the good man's face, he spoke of the loving kindness
of the Creator, and of the life that is to come. Often
did the voice of prayer ascend from his lips to heaven,
the only sound that broke the solitude of the place.
In the course of the summer Sam became deeply
convicted, his mind dwelling intensely on the subject
of religion. His mistress gave him a Bible, which
he carried with him to his work. WTiatever leisure
time was allowed him, he spent in perusing it, though
it was only with great difficulty that he could master
98 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
any part of it. I often read to him, a favor which he
well repaid me by many expressions of gratitude.
Sam's piety was frequently observed by white men
who came to the mill, and the remark it most gener-
ally provoked was, that a man like Ford, who allowed
his slaves to have Bibles, was " not fit to own a nigger."
• He, however, lost nothing by his kindness. It is
a fact I have more than once observed, that those who
treated their slaves most leniently, were rewarded by
the greatest amount of labor. I know it from my
own experience. It was a source of pleasure to sur-
1 prise Master Ford with a greater day's work than was
required, while, under subsequent masters, there was *
no prompter to extra effort but the overseer's lash.
It was the desire of Ford's approving voice that
suggested to me an idea that resulted to his profit.
The lumber we were manufacturing was contracted
to be delivered at Lamourie. It had hitherto been
transported by land, and was an important item of
expense. Indian Creek, upon which the mills were
situated, was a narrow but deep stream emptying into
Bayou Boeuf. In some places it was not more than
twelve feet wide, and much obstructed with trunks of
trees. Bayou Boeuf was connected with Bayou Lamou-
rie. I ascertained the distance from the mills to the
point on the latter bayou, where our lumber was to be
delivered, was but a few miles less by land than by
water. Provided the creek could be made navigable
for rafts, it occurred to me that the expense of trans-
portation would be materially diminished.
ADAM TATDEM. 99
Adam Taydem, a little white man, who had been a
soldier in Florida, and had strolled into that distant
region, was foreman and superintendent of the mills.
He scouted the idea ; but Ford, when I laid it before
him, received it favorably, and permitted me to try
Having removed the obstructions, I made up a nar-
row raft, consisting of twelve cribs. At this business
I think I was quite skillful, not having forgotten my
experience years before on the Champlain canal. I
labored hard, being extremely anxious to succeed,
both from a desire to please my master, and to show
Adam Taydem that my scheme was not such a vis-
ionary one as he incessantly pronounced it. One
hand could manage three cribs. I took charge"of the
forward three, and commenced poling down the
creek. In due time we entered the first bayou, and
finally reached our destination in a shorter period
of time than I had anticipated.
The arrival of the raft at Lamourie created a sen-
sation, while Mr. Ford loaded me with commenda-
tions. On all sides I heard Ford's Piatt pronounced
the " smartest nigger in the Pine Woods" — in fact
I was the Fulton of Indian Creek. I was not insen-
sible to the praise bestowed upon me, and enjoyed,
especially, my triumph over Taydem, whose half-
malicious ridicule had stung my pride. From this
time the entire control of bringing the lumber to
Lamourie was placed in my hands until the contract
100 TWELVE YEAKS A SLAVE.
Indian Creek, in its whole length, flows through a
magnificent forest. There dwells on its shore a tribe
of Indians, a remnant of the Chickasaws or Chick-
opees, if I remember rightly. They live in simple
huts, ten or twelve feet square, constructed of pine
poles and covered with bark. They subsist princi-
pally on the flesh of the deer, the coon, and opos-
sum, all of which are plenty in these woods. Some-
times they exchange venison for a little corn and
whisky with the planters on the bayous. Their
usual dress is buckskin breeches and calico hunting
shirts of fantastic colors, buttoned from belt to chin.
They wear brass rings on their wrists, and in their
ears and noses. The dress of the squaws is very
similar. They are fond of dogs and horses — owning
many of the latter, of a small, tough breed — and
are skillful riders. Their bridles, girths and saddles
were made of raw skins of animals ; their stirrups
of a certain kind of wood. Mounted astride their
ponies, men and women, I have seen them dash out
into the woods at the utmost of their speed, following
narrow winding paths, and dodging trees, in a man-
ner that eclipsed the most miraculous feats of civil-
ized equestrianism. Circling away in various direc-
tions, the forest echoing and re-echoing with their
whoops, they would presently return at the same
dashing, headlong speed with which they started.
Their village was on Indian Creek, known as Incliaa
Castle, but their range extended to the Sabine River.
Occasionally a tribe from Texas would come over on
CASCALLA AND HIS TED3E. 101
a visit, and then there was indeed a carnival in the
" Great Pine Woods." Chief of the tribe was Cas-
calla ; second in rank, John Baltese, his son-in-law ;
with both of whom, as with many others of the tribe,
I became acquainted during my frequent voyages
down the creek with rafts. Sam and myself would
often visit them when the day's task was done. They
were obedient to the chief; the word of Cascalla
was their law. They were a rude but harmless peo-
ple, and enjoyed their wild mode of life. They had
little fancy for the open country, the cleared lands
on the shores of the bayous, but preferred to hide
themselves within the shadows of the forest. They
worshiped the Great Spirit, loved whisky, and were
On one occasion I was present at a dance, when
a roving herd from Texas had encamped in their
village. The entire carcass of a deer was roasting
before a large fire, which threw its light a long dis-
tance among the trees under which they were assem-
bled. When they had formed in a ring, men and
squaws alternately, a sort of Indian fiddle set up an
indescribable tune. It was a continuous, melancholy
kind of wavy sound, with the slightest possible vari-
ation. At the first note, if indeed there was more
than one note in the whole tune, they circled around,
trotting after each other, and giving utterance to a
guttural, sing-song noise, equally as nondescript as the
music of the fiddle. At the end of the third circuit,
they would stop suddenly, whoop as if their lungs
102 TWELVE YEAKS A SLAVE.
would crack, then break from the ring, forming in
couples, man and squaw, each j limping backwards as
far as possible from the other, then forwards — which
graceful feat having been twice or thrice accomplish-
ed, they would form in a ring, and go trotting round
again. The best dancer appeared to be considered
the one who could whoop the loudest, jump the far-
thest, and utter the most excruciating noise. At in-
tervals, one or more w T ould leave the dancing circle,
and going to the fire, cut from the roasting carcass a
slice of venison.
In a hole, shaped like a mortar, cut in the trunk
of a fallen tree, they pounded corn with a wooden
pestle, and of the meal made cake. Alternately they
danced and ate. Thus were the visitors from Texas
entertained by the dusky sons and daughters of the
Chicopees, and such is a description, as I saw it, of
an Indian ball in the Pine Woods of Avoyelles.
In the autumn, I left the mills, and was employed
at the opening. One day the mistress was urging
Ford to procure a loom, in order that Sally might
commence weaving cloth for the winter garments of
the slaves. He could not imagine where one was to
be found, when I suggested that the easiest way to
get one would be to make it, informing him at the
same time, that I was a sort of " Jack at all trades,"
and would attempt it, with his permission. It was
granted very readily, and I was allowed to go to a
neighboring planter's to inspect one before commen-
cing the undertaking. At length it was finished
JOHN M, TIBEATS. 103
and pronounced by Sally to be perfect, She could
easily weave her task of fourteen yards, milk the
cows, and have leisure time besides each day. It
worked so well, I was continued in the employment
of making looms, which were taken down to the
plantation on the bayou.
At this time one John M. Tibeats, a capenter, came
to the opening to do some work on master's house.
I was directed to quit the looms and assist him. For
two weeks I was in his company, planing and match-
ing boards for ceiling, a plastered room being a rare
thing in the parish of Avoyelles.
John M. Tibeats was the opposite of Ford in all
respects. He was a small, crabbed, quick-tempered,
spiteful man. He had no fixed residence that I ever
heard of, but passed from one plantation to another,
wherever he could find employment. He was with-
out standing in the community, not esteemed by
white men, nor even respected by slaves. He was
ignorant, withal, and of a revengeful disposition. He
left the parish long before I did, and I know not
whether he is at present alive or dead. Certain it is,
it was a most unlucky day for me that brought us
together. During my residence with Master Ford I ^
had seen only the bright side of slavery. His was
no heavy hand crushing us to the earth. He pointed
upwards, and with benign and cheering words ad-
dressed us as his fellow-mortals, accountable, like
himself, to the MaKer of us all. I think of him with
affection, and had my family been with me, could
104 TWELVE YEAES A SLAVE.
have "borne his gentle servitude, without murmuring,
all my days. But clouds were gathering in the hori-
zon — forerunners of a pitiless storm that was soon
to break over me. I was doomed to endure such bit-
ter trials as the poor slave only knows, and to lead
no more the comparatively happy life which I had
led in the " Great Pine "Woods."
FORD'S EMBARRASSMENTS THE SALE TO TIBEATS TIIE CHATTEL MORT-
GAGE MISTRESS FORD'S PLANTATION ON BAYOU BOIUF DESCRIPTION
OF THE LATTER FORD'S BROTHER-IN-LAW, PETER TANNER MEETING
WITH ELIZA SHE STILL MOURNS FOR HER CHILDREN FORD'S OVER-
SEER, CHAPIN TIBEAT'S ABUSE THE KEG OF NAILS THE FIRST
FIGHT WITH TIBEATS HIS DISCOMFITURE AND CASTIGATION THE AT-
TEMPT TO HANG ME — 'CHAPIn's INTERFERENCE AND SPEECH UNHAP-
PY REFLECTIONS ABRUPT DEPARTURE OF TIBEATS, COOK AND RAMSAY
LAWSON AND THE BROWN MULE MESSAGE TO THE PINE WOODS.
William Fokd unfortunately became embarrassed
in bis pecuniary affairs. A beavy judgment was ren-
dered against bim in consequence of bis liaving be-
come security for bis brotber, Franklin Ford, residing
on Red River, above Alexandria, and wbo bad failed
to meet his liabilities. He was also indebted to John
M. Tibeats to a considerable amount in consideration
of his services in building the mills on Indian Creek,
and also a weaving-house, corn-mill and other erec-
tions on the plantation at Bayou Boeuf, not yet com-
pleted. It was therefore necessary, in order to meet
these demands, to dispose of eighteen slaves, myself
among the number. Seventeen of them, including
Sam and Harry, were purchased by Peter Comptom
a planter also residing on Red River.
106 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
I was sold to Tibeats, in consequence, undoubtedly,
of my slight skill as a carpenter. This was in the
winter of 1842. T he d efifi ff^ my self from Freeman
to Ford, as I ascertained fro m the publ ic__re£o rds in
H : Ieans on my return, was date d June 23d ,
1S1L iAt the time of my"saTe~Eoxibeats, the price
agreed to be given for me being more than the debt,
Ford took a chattel mortgage of four hundred dollars.
I am indebted for my life, as will hereafter be seen,
to that mortgage.
I bade farewell to my good friends at the opening,
and departed with my new master Tibeats. "We
went down to the plantation on Bayou Boeuf, distant
twenty-seven miles from the Pine Woods, to complete
the unfinished contract. Bayou Boeuf is a sluggish,
winding stream — one of those stagnant bodies of
water common in that region, setting back from Red
River. It stretches from a point not far from Alex-
andria, in a south-easterly direction, and following its
tortuous course, is more than fifty miles in length.
Large cotton and sugar plantations line each shore,
extending back to the borders of interminable
swamps. It is alive with aligators, rendering it un-
safe for swine, or unthinking slave children to stroll
along its banks. Upon a bend in this bayou, a short
distance from Cheney ville, was situated the plantation
of Madam Ford — her brother, Peter Tanner, a great
landholder, living on the opposite side.
On my arrival at Bayou Bceuf, I had the pleasure
of meeting Eliza, whom I had not seen for several
OVERSEER CHAPIN. 107
months. She had not pleased Mrs. Ford, being more
occupied in brooding over her sorrows than in attend-
ing to her business, and had, in consequence, been sent
down to work in the field on the plantation. She had
grown feeble and emaciated, and was still mourning
for her children. She asked me if I had forgotten
them, and a great many times inquired if I still re-
membered how handsome little Emily was — how
much Randall loved her — and wondered if they were
living still, and where the darlings could then be.
She had sunk beneath the weight of an excessive grief.
Her drooping form and hollow cheeks too plainly indi-
cated that she had well nigh reached the end of her
Ford's overseer on this plantation, and who had the
exclusive charge of it, was a Mr. Chapin, a kindly-dis-
posed man, and a native of Pennsylvania. In com-
mon with others, he held Tibeats in light estimation,
which fact, in connection with the four hundred dol-
lar mortgage, was fortunate for me.
I was now compelled to labor very hard. From
earliest dawn until late at night, I was not allowed to
be a moment idle. Notwithstanding which, Tibeats
was never satisfied. He was continually cursing and
complaining. He never spoke to me a kind word. I
was his faithful slave, and earned him large wages
every day, and yet I went to my cabin nightly, loaded
with abuse and stinging epithets.
"We had completed the corn mill, the kitchen, and
80 forth, and were at work upon the weaving-house,
108 TWELVE YEAKS A SLAVE.
when I was guilty of an act, in that State punishabie
with death. It was my first fight with Tibeats. The
weaving-house we were erecting stood in the orchard
a few rods from the residence of Chap in, or the " great
house," as it was called. One night, having worked
until it was too dark to see, I was ordered by Tibeats
to rise very early in the morning, procure a keg of
nails from Chapin, and commence putting on the
clapboards. I retired to the cabin extremely tired,
and having cooked a supper of bacon and corn cake,
and conversed a while with Eliza, who occupied the
same cabin, as also did Lawson and his wife Mary,
and a slave named Bristol, laid down upon the ground
floor, little dreaming of the sufferings that awaited me
on the morrow. Before daylight I was on the piazza
of the " great house," awaiting the appearance of over-
seer Chapin. To have aroused him from his slumbers
and stated my errand, would have been an unpardon-
able boldness. At length he came out. Taking off
my hat, I informed him Master Tibeats had directed
me to call upon him for a keg of nails. Going into
the store-room, he rolled it out, at the same time say-
ing, if Tibeats preferred a different size, he would en-
deavor to furnish them, but that I might use those
until further directed. Then mounting his horse,
which stood saddled and bridled at the door, he rode
away into the field, whither the slaves had preceded
him, while I took the keg on my shoulder, and pro-
ceeding to the weaving-house, broke in the head, and
commenced nailing on the clapboards.
FIKST FIGHT WITH TIBEATS. 109
As the day began to open, Tibeats came out of the
house to where I was, hard at work. He seemed to
be that morning even more morose and disagreeable
than usual. He was my master, entitled by law to
my flesh and blood, and to exercise over me such ty-
rannical control as his mean nature prompted ; but
there was no law that could prevent my looking upon
him with intense contempt. I despised both his dis-
position and his intellect. I had just come round to
the keg for a further supply of nails, as he reached
" I thought I told you to commence putting on
weather-boards this morning," he remarked.
" Yes, master, and I am about it," I replied.
" "Where ? " he demanded.
" On the other side," was my answer.
He walked round to the other side, examined my
work for a while, muttering to himself in a fault-find-
" Didn't I tell you last night to get a keg of nails
of Chapin ? " he broke forth again.
" Yes, master, and so I did ; and overseer said he
would get another size for you, if you wanted them,
when he came back from the field."
Tibeats walked to the keg, looked a moment at the
contents, then kicked it violently. Coming towards
me in a great passion, he exclaimed,
" G — d d — n you ! I thought you faiowed some-
I made answer :_ "I tried to do as you told me,
110 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
master. I didn't mean anything wrong. Overseer
said — " But he interrupted me with such a flood of
curses that I was unable to finish the sentence. At
length he ran towards the house, and going to the
piazza, took down one of the overseer's whips. The
whip had a short wooden stock, braided over with
leather, and was loaded at the butt. The lash was
three feet long, or thereabouts, and made of raw-hide
At first I was somewhat frightened, and my impulse
was to run. There was no one about except Rachel,
the cook, and Chapin's wife, and neither of them were
to be seen. The rest were in the field. I knew he
intended to whip me, and it was the first time any
one had attempted it since my arrival at Avoyelles.
I felt, moreover, that I had been faithful — that I was
guilty of no wrong whatever, and deserved commenda-
tion rather than punishment. My fear changed to
anger, and before he reached me I had made up my
mind fully not to be whipped, let th« result be life or
"Winding the lash around his hand, and taking hold
of the small end of the stock, he walked up to me,
and with a malignant look, ordered me to strip.
" Master Tibeats, said I, looking him boldly in the
face, " I will not." I was about to say something
further in justification, but with concentrated ven
geance, he sprang upon me, seizing me by the throat
with one hand, raising the whip with the other, in the
act of striking. Before the blow descended, however,
TIBEAT3 5 DISCOMFITUEE. Ill
I had caught him by the collar of the coat, and drawn
him closely to me. Reaching down, I seized him by
the ankle, and pushing him back with the other hand,
he fell over on the ground. Putting one arm around
his leg, and holding it to my breast, so that his head
and shoulders only touched the ground, I placed my
foot upon his neck. He was completely in my power.
My blood was up. It seemed to course through my
veins like fire. In the frenzy of my madness I snatched
the whip from his hand. He struggled with all his
power ; swore that I should not live to see another
day ; and that he would tear out my heart. But his
struggles and his threats were alike in vain. I cannot
tell how many times I struck him. Blow after blow
fell fast and heavy upon his wriggling form. At
length he screamed — cried murder — and at last the
blasphemous tyrant called on God for mercy. But
he who had never shown mercy did not receive it.
The stiff stock of the whip warped round his cringing
body until my right arm ached.
Until this time I had been too busy to look about
me. Desisting for a moment, I saw Mrs. Chapin
looking from the window, and Rachel standing in the
kitchen door. Their attitudes expressed the utmost
excitement and alarm. His screams had been heard
in the field. Chapin was coming as fast as he could
ride. I struck him a blow or two more, then pushed
him from me with such a well-directed kick that he
went rolling over on the ground.
Rising to his feet, and brushing the dirt from his
112 TWELVE TEAKS A SLAVE.
hair, he stood looking at me, pale with rage. We
gazed at each other in silence. Not a word was ut-
tered until Chapin galloped up to us.
"What is the matter?" he cried out.
" Master Tibeats wants to whip me for using the
nails you gave me," I replied.
" What- is the matter with the nails ?" he inquired,
turning to Tibeats.
Tibeats answered to the effect that they were too
large, paying little heed, however, to Chapin's ques-
tion, but still keeping his snakish eyes fastened mali-
ciously on me.
"I am overseer here," Chapin began. "I told
Piatt to take them and use them, and if they were not
of the proper size I would get others on returning from
the field. It is not his fault. Besides, I shall furnish
such nails as I please. I hope you will understand
that, Mr. Tibeats."
Tibeats made no reply, but, grinding his teeth and
shaking his fist, swore he would have satisfaction,
and that it was not half over yet. Thereupon he walk-
ed away, followed by the overseer, and entered the
house, the latter talking to him all the while in a sup-
pressed tone, and with earnest gestures.
I remained where I was, doubting whether it was
better to fly or abide the result, whatever it might
be. Presently Tibeats came out of the house, and,
saddling his horse, the only property he possessed be-
sides myself, departed on the road to Chenyville.
When he was gone, Chapin came out, visibly exci-
UNHAPPY REFLECTIONS. 113
ted, telling me not to stir, not to attempt to leave the
plantation on any account whatever. He then went
to the kitchen, and calling Hachel out, conversed with
her some time. Coming back, he again charged me
with great earnestness not to run, saying my master
was a rascal ; that he had left on no good errand, and
that there might be trouble before night. But at all
events, he insisted upon it, I must not stir.
As I stood there, feelings of unutterable agony
overwhelmed me. I was conscious that I had sub-
jected myself to unimaginable punishment. The re-
action that followed my extreme ebullition of anger
produced the most painful sensations of regret. An
unfriended, helpless slave — what could I do, what
could I say, to justify, in the remotest manner, the
heinous act I had committed, of resenting a white
man's contumely and abuse. I tried to pray — I tried
to beseech my Heavenly Father to sustain me in my
sore extremity, but emotion choked my utterance, and
I could only bow my head upon my hands and weep.
For at least an hour I remained in this situation, find-
ing relief only in tears, when, looking up, I beheld
Tibeats, accompanied by two horsemen, coming down
the bayou. They rode into the yard, jumped from
their horses, and approached me with large whips,
one of them also carrying a coil of rope.
" Cross your hands," commanded Tibeats, with the
addition of such a shuddering expression of blasphe-
my as is not decorous to repeat.
114 TWELVE YEABS A SLAVE.
" You need not bind me, Master Tibeats, I am
ready to go with you anywhere," said I.
One of his companions then stepped forward, swear-
ing if I made the least resistance he would break my
head — he would tear me limb from limb — he would
cut my black throat — and giving wide scope to other
similar expressions. Perceiving any importunity al-
together vain, I crossed my hands, submitting hum-
bly to whatever disposition they might please to make
of me. Thereupon Tibeats tied my wrists, drawing
the rope around them with his utmost strength. Then
he bound my ankles in the same manner. In the
meantime the other two had slipped a cord within my
elbows, running it across my back, and tying it firm-
ly. It was utterly impossible to move hand or foot.
With a remaining piece of rope Tibeats made an awk-
ward noose, and placed it about my neck.
" ]N"ow, then," inquired one of Tibeats' companions,
" where shall we hang the nigger ?"
One proposed such a limb, extending from the body
of a peach tree, near the spot where we were stand-
ing. His comrade objected to it, alleging it would
break, and proposed another. Finally they fixed up-
on the latter.
During this conversation, and all the time they
were binding me, I uttered not a word. Overseer
Chapin, during the progress of the scene, was walk-
ing hastily back and forth on the piazza. Rachel was
crying by the kitchen door, and Mrs. Chapin was still
■■■■ . ■
CHAPIN RESCUES SOLOMON FROM HANGING.
ATTEMPT TO HANG ME. 115
looking from the window. Hope died within my
heart. Surely my time had come. I should never
behold the light of another day — never behold the
faces of my children — the sweet anticipation I had
cherished with such fondness. I should that hour
struggle through the fearful agonies of death ! None
would mourn for me — none revenge me. Soon my
form would be mouldering in that distant soil, or, per-
haps, be cast to the slimy reptiles that filled the stag-
nant waters of the bayou ! Tears flowed down my
cheeks, but they only afforded a subject of insulting
comment for my executioners.
At length, as they were dragging me towards the
tree, Chapin, who had momentarily disappeared from
the piazza, came out of the house and walked towards
us. He had a pistol in each hand, and as near as I
can now recall to mind, spoke in a firm, determined
manner, as follows :
" Gentlemen, I have a few words to say. You had
better listen to them. Whoever moves that slave an-
other foot from where he stands is a dead man. In
the first place, he does not deserve this treatment. It
is a shame to murder him in this manner. I never
knew a more faithful boy than Piatt. You, Tibeats,
are in the fault yourself. You are pretty much of a
scoundrel, and I know it, and you richly deserve the
flogging you have received. In the next place, I have
been overseer on this plantation seven years, and, in
the absence of "William Ford, am master here. My
duty is to protect his interests, and that duty I shall
116 TWELVE TEAKS A SLAVE.
perform. You are not responsible — you are a worth-
less fellow. Ford holds a mortgage on Piatt of four
hundred dollars. If you hang him he loses his debt.
Until that is canceled you have no right to take his
life. You have no right to take it any way. There
is a law for the slave as well as for the white man.
You are no better than a murderer.
" As for you," addressing Cook and Ramsay, a
couple of overseers from neighboring plantations, " as
for you — begone ! If you have any regard for your
own safety, I say, begone."
Cook and Ramsay, without a further word, mount-
ed their horses and rode away. Tib eats, in a few
minutes, evidently in fear, and overawed by the deci-
ded tone of Chapin, sneaked off like a coward, as he
was, and mounting his horse, followed his companions.
I remained standing where I was, still bound, with
the rope around my neck. As soon as they were
gone, Chapin called Rachel, ordering her to run to
the field, and tell Lawson to hurry to the house with-
out delay, and bring the brown mule with him, an
animal much prized for its unusual neetness. Pres-
ently the boy appeared.
" Lawson," said Chapin, " you must go to the Pine
Woods. Tell your master Ford to come here at once
— that he must not delay a single moment. Tell him
they are trying to murder Piatt. Now hurry, boy.
Be at the Pine Woods by noon if you kill the mule."
Chapin stepped into the house and wrote a pass.
When he returned, Lawson was at the door, mounted
LAWS0N AND THE MULE. 117
on his mule. Receiving the pass, he plied the whip
right smartly to the beast, dashed ont of the yard, and
turning up the bayou on a hard gallop, in less time
than it has taken me to describe the scene, was out
THE HOT SUN TET BOUND THE COEDS SINK INTO MY FLESH CHA-
PIn's UNEASINESS SPECULATION RACHEL, AND HER CUP OF WATER
SUFFERING INCREASES THE HAPPINESS OF SLAVERY ARRIVAL OF
FORD HE CUTS THE CORDS WHICH BIND ME, AND TAKES THE ROPE FROM
MY NECK MISERY THE GATHERING OF THE SLAVES IN ELIZA'S CABIN
THEIR KINDNESS RACHEL REPEATS THE OCCURRENCES OF THE DAY — ■
LAWSON ENTERTAINS HIS COMPANIONS WITH AN ACCOUNT OF HIS RIDE
CHAPIN'S APPREHENSIONS OF TIBEATS HIRED TO PETER TANNER PETER
EXPOUNDS THE SCRIPTURES DESCRIPTION OF THE STOCKS.
As the sun approached the meridian that day it be-
came insufferably warm. Its hot rays scorched the
ground. The earth almost blistered the foot that stood
upon it. I was without coat or hat, standing bare-
headed, exposed to its burning blaze. Great drops
of perspiration rolled down my face, drenching the
scanty apparel wherewith I was clothed. Over the
fence, a very little way off, the peach trees cast their
cool, delicious shadows on the grass. I would gladly
have given a long year of service to have been ena-
bled to exchange the heated oven, as it were, where-
in I stood, for a seat beneath their branches. But I
was yet bound, the rope still dangling from my neck,
and standing in the same tracks where Tibeats and
his comrades left me. I could not move an inch, so
firmly had I been bound. To have been enabled to
CHAPESr's UNEASINESS. 119
lean against the weaving house would have been a
luxury indeed. But it was far beyond my reach,
though distant less than twenty feet. I wanted to lie
down, but knew I could not rise again. The ground
was so parched and boiling hot I was aware it would
but add to the discomfort of my situation. If I could
have only moved my position, however slightly, it
would have been relief unspeakable. But the hot
rays of a southern sun, beating all the long summer
day on my bare head, produced not half the suffer-
ing I experienced from my aching limbs. My wrists
and ankles, and the cords of my legs and arms began
to swell, burying the rope that bound them into the
All day Chapin walked back and forth upon the
stoop, but not once approached me. He appeared to
be in a state of great uneasiness, looking first
towards me, and then up the road, as if expecting
some arrival every moment. He did not go to the
field, as was his custom. It was evident from his man-
ner that he supposed Tib eats would return with more
and better armed assistance, perhaps, to renew the
quarrel, and it was equally evident he had prepared
his mind to defend my life at whatever hazard.
Why he did not relieve me — why he suffered me to
remain in agony the whole weary day, I never knew.
It was not for want of sympathy, I am certain. Per-
haps he wished Ford to see the rope about my neck,
and the brutal manner in which I had been bound ;
perhaps his interference with another's property in
120 TWELVE TEAES A SLATE.
which, he had no legal interest might have been a
trespass, which would have subjected him to the pen-
alty of the law. "Why Tibeats was all day absent was
another mystery I never could divine. He knew well
enough that Chapin would not harm him unless he
persisted in his design against me. Lawson told me
afterwards, that, as he passed the plantation of John
David Cheney, he saw the three, and that they turned
and looked after him as he flew by. I think his sup-
position was, that Lawson had been sent out by Over-
seer Chapin to arouse the neighboring planters, and
to call on them to come to his assistance. He, there-
fore, undoubtedly, acted on the principle, that " dis
cretion is the better part of valor," and kept away.
But whatever motive may have governed the cow-
ardly and malignant tyrant, it is of no importance.
There I still stood in the noon-tide sun, groaning with
pain. From long before daylight I had not eaten a
morsel. I was growing faint from pain, and thirst,
and hunger. Once only, in the very hottest portion
of the day, Rachel, half fearful she was acting con-
trary to the overseer's wishes, ventured to me, and
held a cup of water to my lips. The humble crea-
ture never knew, nor could she comprehend if she
had heard them, the blessings I invoked upon her,
for that balmy draught. She could only say, " Oh,
Piatt, how I do pity you," and then hastened back to
her labors in the kitchen.
ISTever did the sun move so slowly through the
heavens — never did it shower down such fervent and
ARRIVAL OF FORD. 121
fiery rays, as it did that day. At least, so it app ear-
ed to me. What my meditations were — the innume-
rable thoughts that thronged through my distracted
brain — I will not attempt to give expression to,
Suffice it to say, during the whole long day I came
not to the conclusion, even once, that the southern
slave, fed, clothed, whipped and protected by his
master, is happier than the free colored citizen of the
Korth. To that conclusion I have never since arri-
ved. There are many, however, even in the Northern
States, benevolent and well-disposed men, who will
pronounce my opinion erroneous, and gravely proceed
to substantiate the assertion with an argument. Alas !
they have never drank, as I have, from the bitter cup
of slavery. Just at sunset my heart leaped with un-
bounded joy, as Ford came riding into the yard, his
horse covered with foam. Chapin met him at the
door, and after conversing a short time, he walked
directly to me.
" Poor Piatt, you are in a bad state," was the only
expression that escaped his lips.
" Thank God !" said I, « thank God, Master Ford,
that you have come at last."
Drawing a knife from his pocket, he indignantly
cut the cord from my wrists, arms, and ankles, and
slipped the noose from my neck. I attempted to
walk, but staggered like a drunken man, and fell par-
tially to the ground.
Ford returned immediately to the house, leaving
me alone again. As he reached the piazza, Tibeats
122 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
and his two friends rode up. A long dialogue fol-
lowed. I could hear the sound of their voices, the
mild tones of Ford mingling with the angry accents
of Tibeats, but was unable to distinguish what was
said. Finally the three departed again, apparently
not well pleased.
I endeavored to raise the hammer, thinking to show
Ford how willing I was to work, by proceeding with
my labors on the weaving house, but it fell from my
nerveless hand. At dark I crawled into the cabin,
and laid down. I was in great misery — all sore and
swollen — the slightest movement producing excruci-
ating suffering. Soon the hands came in from the
field. Rachel, when she went after Lawson, had told
them what had happened. Eliza and Mary broiled
I me a piece of bacon, but my appetite was gone.
Then they scorched some corn meal and made coffee.
It was all that I could take. Eliza consoled me and
was very kind. It was not long before the cabin was
full of-slaves. They gathered round me, asking many
questions about the difficulty with Tibeats in the
morning — and the particulars of all the occurrences
of the day. Then Rachel came in, and in her simple
language, repeated it over again — 'dwelling emphat-
ically on the kick that sent Tibeats rolling over on
the ground — ■ whereupon there was a general titter
throughout the crowd. Then she described how Cha-
pin walked out with his pistols and rescued me,
and how Master Ford cut the ropes with his knife,
just as if he was mad.
lawson's ride. 123
By this time Lawson had returned. He had to
regale them with an account of his trip to the Pine
"Woods — how the brown mule bore him faster than
a " streak o' lightnin" — how he astonished everybody
as he flew along — how Master Ford started right
away — how he said Piatt was a good nigger, and
they shouldn't kill him, concluding with pretty strong
intimations that there was not another human being
in the wide world, who could have created such a
universal sensation on the road, or performed such a
marvelous John Gilpin feat, as he had done that day
on the brown mule.
The kind creatures loaded me with the expression
of their sympathy — saying, Tibeats was a hard, cruel
man, and hoping " Massa Ford" would get me back
again. In this manner they passed the time, discus-
sing, chatting, talking over and over again the exci-
ting affair, until suddenly Chapin presented himself
at the cabin door and called me.
" Piatt," said he, " you will sleep on the floor in the
great house to-night ; bring your blanket with you."
I arose as quickly as I was able, took my blanket
in my hand, and followed him. On the way he in-
formed me that he should not wonder if Tibeats was
back again before morning — that he intended to kill
me — and that he did not mean he should do it with-
out witnesses. Had he stabbed me to the heart in
the presence of a hundred slaves, not one of them, by
the laws of Louisiana, could have given evidence
against him. I laid down on the floor in the " great
124 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
house" — the first and the last time such a sumptu-
ous resting place was granted me during my twelve
years of bondage — and tried to sleep. Near midnight
the dog began to bark. Chapin arose, looked from
the window, but could discover nothing. At length
the dog was quiet. As he returned to his room, he said,
" I believe, Piatt, that scoundrel is skulking about
the premises somewhere. If the dog barks again, and
I am sleeping, wake me."
I promised to do so. After the lapse of an hour or
more, the dog re-commenced his clamor, running
towards the gate, then back again, all the while bark-
Chapin was out of bed without waiting to be called.
On this occasion, he stepped forth upon the piazza,
and remained standing there a considerable length of
time. Nothing, however, was to be seen, and the
dog returned to his kennel. We were not disturbed
again during the night. The excessive pain that I
suffered, and the dread of some impending danger,
prevented any rest whatever. Whether or not Tibe-
ats did actually return to the plantation that night,
seeking an opportunity to wreak his vengeance upon
me, is a secret known only to himself, perhaps. I
thought then, however, and have the strong impres-
sion still, that he was there. At all events, he had
the disposition of an assassin — cowering before a
brave man's words, but ready to strike his helpless or
unsuspecting victim in the back, as I had reason af-
terwards to know.
chapin's appearance. 125
At daylight in the morning, I arose, sore and wea-
ry, having rested little. Nevertheless, after partaking
breakfast, which Mary and Eliza had prepared for me
in the cabin, I proceeded to the weaving hon.se and
commenced the labors of another day. It was Cha-
pin's practice, as it is the practice of overseers gen-
erally, immediately on arising, to bestride his horse,
always saddled and bridled and ready for him — ■
the particular business of some slave — and ride into
the field. This morning, on the contrary, he came to
the weaving house, asking if I had seen anything of
Tibeats yet. Replying in the negative, he remarked
there was something not right about the fellow —
there was bad blood in him' — that I must keep a
sharp watch of him, or he would do me wrong some
day when I least expected it.
"While he was yet speaking, Tibeats rode in, hitched
his horse, and entered the house. I had little fear of
him while Ford and Chapin were at hand, but they
could not be near me always.
Oh ! how heavily the weight of slavery pressed
upon me then. I must toil day after day, endure
abuse and taunts and scoffs, sleep on the hard ground,
live on the coarsest fare, and not only this, but live
the slave of a blood-seeking wretch, of whom I must
stand henceforth in continued fear and dread. "Why
had I not died in my young years — before God had
given me children to love and live for ? What un-
happiness and suffering and sorrow it would have
prevented. I sighed for liberty ; but the bondman's
126 TWELVE TEAES A SLAVE.
clmin was round me, and could not be shaken off. I
could only gaze wistfully towards the North, and
think of the thousands of miles that stretched between
me and the soil of freedom, over which a black free-
man may not pass.
Tibeats, in the course of half an hour, walked over
to the weaving-house, looked at me sharply, then re-
turned without saying anything. Most of the fore-
noon he sat on the piazza, reading a newspaper and
conversing with Ford. After dinner, the latter left
for the Pine Woods, and it was indeed with regret
that I beheld him depart from the plantation.
Once more during the day Tibeats came to me,
gave me some order, and returned.
During the week the weaving-house was completed
— Tibeats in the meantime making no allusion what-
ever to the difficulty — when I was informed he had
hired me to Peter Tanner, to work under another car-
penter by the name of Myers. This announcement
was received with gratification, as any place was de-
sirable that would relieve me of his hateful presence.
Peter Tanner, as the reader has already been in-
formed, lived on the opposite shore, and was the broth-
er of Mistress Ford. He is one of the most- extensive
planters on Bayou Bceuf, and owns a large number
Over I went to Tanner's, joyfully enough. He had
heard of my late difficulties — in fact, I ascertained
the flogging of Tibeats was soon blazoned far and wide.
This affair, together with my rafting experiment, had
PETER EXPOUNDS THE SCRIPTURE. 127
rendered me somewhat notorious. More than once I
heard it said that Piatt Ford, now Piatt Tibeats — a
slave's name changes with his change of master — was
" a devil of a nigger." But I was destined to make a
still further noise, as will presently be seen, through-
out the little world of Bayou Bceuf.
Peter Tanner endeavored to impress upon me the
idea that he was quite severe, though I could per-
ceive there was a vein of good humor in the old fel-
low, after all.
" You're the nigger," he said to me on my arrival
• — " You're the nigger that flogged your master, eh?
You're the nigger that kicks, and holds carpenter
Tibeats by the leg, and wallops him, are ye 2 I'd like
to see you hold me by the leg — I should. You're a
'portant character — you're a great nigger — very re-
markable nigger, ain't ye ? Pd lash you — Pd take
the tantrums out of ye. Jest take hold of my leg, if
you please. None of your pranks here, my boy, re-
member that. Now go to work, you hichi/n? rascal,"
concluded Peter Tanner, unable to suppress a half-
comical grin at his own wit and sarcasm.
After listening to this salutation, I was taken charge
of by Myers, and labored under his direction for a
mo.fi.th, to his and my own satisfaction.
/ Like William Pord, his brother-in-law, Tanner was j
irithe habit of reading the Bible to his slaves on the
Sabbath, but in a somewhat different spirit. He was
an impressive commentator on the New Testament.
The first Sunday after my coming to the plantation,
128 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
he called them together, and began to read the twelfth
chapter of Luke. When he came to the 47th verse,
he looked deliberately around him, and continued —
" And that servant which knew his lord's will" — 'here
he paused, looking around more deliberately than be-
fore, and again proceeded — " which knew his lord's
will, and prepared not himself" — here was another
pause — "prepared not himself, neither did according
to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.''' 1
" D'ye hear that ? " demanded Peter, emphatically.
" Stripes" he repeated, slowly and distinctly, taking
off his spectacles, preparatory to making a few re-
" That nigger that don't take care — that don't obey
his lord — that's his master — d'ye see ? — that 'ere
nigger shall be beaten with many stripes. Now,
'many' signifies a great many — forty, a hundred,
a hundred and fifty lashes. That's Scripter ! " and so
Peter continued to elucidate the subject for a great
length of time, much to the edification of his sable
At the conclusion of the exercises, calling up three
of his slaves, Warner, Will and Major, he cried out
to me —
" Here, Piatt, you held Tibeats by the legs ; now I'll
see if you can hold these rascals in the same way, till
I get back from meetm'."
Thereupon he ordered them to the stocks — a com-
mon thing on plantations in the Red River country.
The stocks are formed of two planks, the lower one
DESCRIPTION OF THE STOCKS. 129
made fast at the ends to two short posts, driven firmly
into the ground. At regular distances half circles
are cut in the upper edge. The other plank is fas-
tened to one of the posts by a hinge, so that it can be
opened or shut down, in the same manner as the blade
of a pocket-knife is shut or opened. In the lower edge
of the upper plank corresponding half circles are also
cut. so that When they close, a row of holes is formed
large enough to admit a negro's leg above the ankle,
but not large enough to enable him to draw out his
foot. The other end of the upper plank, opposite the
hinge, is fastened to its post by lock and key. The
slave is made to sit upon the ground, when the upper-
most plank is elevated, his legs, just above the ankles,
placed in the sub-half circles, and shutting it down
again, and locking it, he is held secure and fast. Yery
often the neck instead of the ankle is enclosed. In
this manner they are held during the operation of
Warner, "Will and Major, according to Tanner's ac-
count of them, were melon-stealing, Sabbath-break-
ing niggers, and not approving of such wickedness, he
felt it his duty to put them in the stocks. Handing
me the key, himself, Myers, Mistress Tanner and the
children entered the carriage and drove away to
church at Cheney ville. When they were gone, the
boys begged me to let them out. I felt sorry to see
them sitting on the hot ground, and remembered my
own sufferings in the sun. Upon their promise to re-
turn to the stocks at any moment they were required
130 TWELVE YEAKS A SLAVE.
to do so, I consented to release them. Grateful for
the lenity shown them, and in order in some meas-
ure to repay it, they could do no less, of course,
than pilot me to the melon-patch. Shortly before
Tanner's return, they were in the stocks again.
Finally he drove up, and looking at the boys, said, with
a chuckle, —
" Aha ! ye havn't been strolling about much to-day,
any way. I'll teach you what's what, fll tire ye
of eating water-melons on the Lord's day, ye Sabbath-
Ppitfir Tarmp.r prided himself upon his strict r eligious
obse rvances: he was a dp.;ip.rm in fhp rhm-ph
"But I have now reached a point in the progress of
my narrative, when it becomes necessary to turn away
from these light descriptions, to the more grave and
weighty matter of the second battle with Master Tib-
eats, and the flight through the great Pacoudrie
BETURN TO TIBEATS IMPOSSIBILITY OF PLEASING HIM HE ATTACKS ME
WITH A HATCHET THE STRUGGLE OVER THE BROAD AXE THE TEMPTA-
TION TO MURDER HIM ESCAPE ACROSS THE PLANTATION OBSERVA-
TIONS FROM THE FENCE TIBEATS APPROACHES, FOLLOWED BY THE HOUNDS
THEY TAKE MY TRACK THEIR LOUD YELLS THEY ALMOST OVERTAKE
ME 1 REACH THE WATER THE HOUNDS CONFUSED MOCCASIN SNAKES
ALLIGATORS NIGHT IN THE "GREAT PACOUDRLE SWAMP" — ' THE SOUNDS
OF LIFE NORTH-WEST COURSE EMERGE INTO THE PINE WOODS THE
SLAVE AND HIS YOUNG MASTER ARRIVAL AT FORD'S FOOD AND REST.
At the end of a month, my services being no lon-
ger required at Tanner's I was sent over the bayou
again to my master, whom I found engaged in build-
ing the cotton press. This was situated at some dis-
tance from the great house, in a rather retired place.
I commenced working once more in company with
Tibeats, being entirely alone with him most part of
the time. I remembered the words of Chapin, his
precautions, his advice to beware, lest in some unsus-
pecting moment he might injure me. They were al-
ways in my mind, so that I lived in a most uneasy
state of apprehension and fear. One eye was on my
work, the other on my master. I determined to give
him no cause of offence, to work still more diligently,
132 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
if possible, than I had done, to bear whatever abuse
he might heap upon me, save bodily injury, humbly
and patiently, hoping thereby to soften in some de-
gree his manner towards me, until the blessed time
might come when I should be delivered from his
The third morning after my return, Chapin left the
plantation for Cheneyville, to be absent until night.
Tibeats, on that morning, was attacked with one of
those periodical fits of spleen and ill-humor to which
he was frequently subject, rendering him still more
disagreeable and venomous than usual.
It was about nine o'clock in the forenoon, when I
was busily employed with the jack-plane on one of the
sweeps. Tibeats was standing by the work-bench,
fitting a handle into the chisel, with which he had
been engaged previously in cutting the thread of the
" You are not planing that down enough," said he.
" It is just even with the line," I replied.
" You're a d — d liar," he exclaimed passionately.
" Oh, well, master," I said, mildly, " I will plane it
down more if you say so," at the same time proceed-
ing to do as I supposed he desired. Before one sha-
ving had been removed, however, he cried out, say-
ing I had now planed it too deep — it was too small
— I had spoiled the sweep entirely. Then followed
curses and imprecations. I had endeavored to do ex-
actly as he directed, but nothing would satisfy the un-
reasonable man. In silence and in dread I stood by the
TIBEATS ATTACKS ME. 133
sweep, holding the jack-plane in my hand, not know-
ing what to do, and not daring to be idle. His anger
grew more and more violent, until, finally, with an
oath, such a bitter, frightful oath as only Tibeats could
utter, he seized a hatchet from the work-bench and
darted towards me, swearing he would cut my head
It was a moment of life or death. The sharp, bright
blade of the hatchet glittered in the sun. In another
instant it would be buried in my brain, and yet in
that instant — so quick will a man's thoughts come to
him in such a fearful strait — I reasoned with my-
self. If I stood still, my doom was certain ; if I fled,
ten chances to one the hatchet, flying from his hand
with a too-deadly and unerring aim, would strike me
in the back. There was but one course to take.
Springing towards him with all my power, and meet-
ing him full half-way, before he could bring down the
blow, with one hand I caught his uplifted arm, with
the other seized him by the throat. We stood look-
ing each other in the eyes. In his I could see mur-
der. I felt as if I had a serpent by the neck, watch-
ing the slightest relaxation of my gripe, to coil itself
round my body, crushing and stinging it to death. I
thought to scream aloud, trusting that some ear might
catch the sound — but Chapin was away ; the hands
were in the field ; there was no living soul in sight
The good genius, which thus far through life has
saved me from the hands of violence, at that moment
134 TWELVE TEAKS A SLAVE.
suggested a lucky thought. With a vigorous and
sudden kick, that brought him on one knee, with a
groan, I released mj hold upon his throat, snatched
the hatchet, and cast it beyond reach.
Frantic with rage, maddened beyond control, he
seized a white oak stick, five feet long, perhaps, and
as large in circumference as his hand could grasp,
which was lying on the ground. Again he rushed
towards me, and again I met him, seized him about
the waist, and being the stronger of the two, bore
him to the earth. "While in that position I obtained
possession of the stick, and rising, cast it from me,
He likewise arose and ran for the broad-axe, on the
work-bench. Fortunately, there was a heavy plank
lying upon its broad blade, in such a manner that he
could not extricate it, before I had sprung upon his
back. Pressing him down closely and heavily on the
plank, so that the axe was held more firmly to its
place, I endeavored, but in vain, to break his grasp
upon the handle. In that position we remained some
There have been hours in my unhappy life, many
of them, when the contemplation of death as the end
of earthly sorrow — of the grave as a resting place
for the tired and worn out body — has been pleasant
to dwell upon. But such contemplations vanish in the
hour of peril. "No man, in his full strength, can
stand undismayed, in the presence of the " king of
terrors." Life is dear to every living thing; the
TEMPTATION TO MURDER TD3EATS. 135
worm that crawls upon the ground will struggle for
it. At that moment it was dear to me, enslaved and
treated as I was.
ISTot able to unloose his hand, once more I seized
him by the throat, and this time, with a vice-like
gripe that soon relaxed his hold. He became pliant
and unstrung. His face, that had been white with
passion, was now black from suffocation. Those small
serpent eyes that spat such venom, were now full of
horror — two great white orbs starting from their
There was " a lurking devil" in my heart that
prompted me to kill the human blood-hound on the
spot — to retain the gripe on his accursed throat till
the breath of life was gone ! I dared not murder
him, and I dared not let him live. If I killed him,
my life must pay the forfeit — if he lived, my life
only would satisfy his vengeance. A voice within
whispered me to fly. To be a wanderer among the
swamps, a fugitive and a vagabond on the face of
the earth, was preferable to the life that I was lead-
My resolution was soon formed, and swinging him
from the work-bench to the ground, I leaped a fence
near by, and hurried across the plantation, passing
the slaves at work in the cotton field. At the end of
a quarter of a mile I reached the wood-pasture, and
it was a short time indeed that I had been running
it. Climbing on to a high fence, I could see the
cotton press, the great house, and the space between.
136 TWELVE YEAES A SLA\ £.
It was a conspicuous position, from whence the whole
plantation was in view. I saw Tibeats cross the field
towards the house, and enter it — • then he came out,
carrying his saddle, and presently mounted his horse
and galloped away.
I was desolate, but thankful. Thankful that my
life was spared, — desolate and discouraged with the
prospect before me. What would become of me ?
Who would befriend me ? Whither should I fly ?
Oh, God ! Thou who gavest me life, and implanted
in my bosom the love of life — who filled it with
emotions such as other men, thy creatures, have, do
not forsake me. Have pity on the poor slave — let
me not perish. If thou dost not protect me, I am.
lost — lost! Such supplications, silently and unut-
tered, ascended from my inmost heart to Heaven.
But there was no answering voice — no sweet, low
tone, coming down from on high, whispering to my
soul, " It is I, be not afraid." I was the forsaken of
God, it seemed — the despised and hated of men !
In about three-fourths of an hour several of the
slaves shouted and made signs for me to run. Pres-
ently, looking up the bayou, I saw Tibeats and two
others on horse-back, coming at a fast gait, followed
by a troop of dogs. There were as many as eight or
ten. Distant as I was, I knew them. They belonged
on the adjoining plantation. The dogs used on Bayou
Boeuf for hunting slaves are a kind of blood-hound,
but a far more savage breed than is found in the
Northern States. They will attack a negro, at their
PURSUED BY HOUNDS. 137
master's bidding, and cling to him as the common
bull-dog will cling to a four footed animal. Fre-
quently their loud bay is heard in the swamps, and
then there is speculation as to what point the runaway
will be overhauled — the same as alSTew-York hunter
stops to listen to the hounds coursing along the hill-
sides, and suggests to his companion that the fox will
be taken at such a place. I never knew, a slave es-
caping with his life from Bayou Bceuf. One reason
is, they are not allowed to learn the art of swimming,
and are incapable of crossing the most inconsiderable
stream. In their flight they can go in no direction
but a little way without coming to a bayou, when the
inevitable alternative is presented, of being drowned
or overtaken by the dogs. In youth I had practised
in the clear streams that flow through my native dis-
trict, until I had become an expert swimmer, and felt
at home in the watery element.
I stood upon the fence until the dogs had reached
the cotton press. In an instant more, their long, sav-
age yells announced they were on my track. Leap-
ing down from my position, I ran towards the swamp.
Fear gave me strength, and I exerted it to the utmost.
Every few moments I could hear the yelpings of the
dogs. They were gaining upon me. Every howl
was nearer and nearer. Each moment I expected
they would spring upon my back — expected to feel
their long teeth sinking into my flesh. There were
so many of them, I knew they would tear me to pie-
ces, that they would worry me, at once, to death, I
138 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
gasped for breath — gasped forth a half-uttered, cho-
king prayer to the Almighty to save me — to give me
strength to reach some wide, deep bayou where I
could throw them off the track, or sink into its wa-
ters. Presently I reached a thick palmetto bottom.
As I fled through them they made a loud rustling
noise, not loud enough, however, to drown the voices
of the dogs.
Continuing my course due south, as nearly as I can
judge, I came at length to water just over shoe.
The hounds at that moment could not have been five
rods behind me. I could hear them crashing and
plunging through the palmettoes, their loud, eager
yells making the whole swamp clamorous with the
sound. Hope revived a little as I reached the water.
If it were only deeper, they might loose the scent, and
thus disconcerted, afford me the opportunity of eva-
ding them. Luckily, it grew deeper the farther I
proceeded — now over my ankles — now half-way to
my knees — now sinking a moment to my waist, and
then emerging presently into more shallow places.
The dogs had not gained upon me since I struck the
water. Evidently they were confused. Now their
savage intonations grew more and more distant, as-
suring me that I was leaving them. Finally I stop-
ped to listen, but the long howl came booming on the
air again, telling me I was not yet safe. From bog to
bog, where I had stepped, they could still keep upon
the track, though impeded by the water. At length,
to my great joy, I came to a wide bayou, and plung-
I EEACn THE WATER. 139
ing in, had soon stemmed its sluggish current to the
other side. There, certainly, the dogs would be con-
founded — the current carrying down the stream all
traces of that slight, mysterious scent, which enables
the quick-smelling hound to follow in the track of the
After crossing this bayou the water became so
deep I could not. run. I was now in what I after-
wards learned was the " Great Pacoudrie Swamp."
It was filled with immense trees ■ — the sycamore, the
gum, the cotton wood and cypress, and extends, I am
informed, to the shore of the Calcasieu river. For
thirty or forty miles it is without inhabitants, save
wild beasts — the bear, the wild-cat, the tiger, and
great slimy reptiles, that are crawling through it
everywhere. Long before I reached the bayou, in
fact, from the time I struck the water until I emer-
ged from the swamp on my return, these reptiles
surrounded me. I saw hundreds of moccasin snakes.
Every log and bog — every trunk of a fallen tree,
over which I was compelled to step or climb, was
alive with them. They crawled away at my ap-
proach, but sometimes in my haste, I almost placed
my hand or foot upon them. They are poisonous
serpents— their bite more fatal than the rattlesnake's.
Besides, I had lost one shoe, the sole having come
entirely off, leaving the upper only dangling to my
I saw also many alligators, great and small, lying
in the water, or on pieces of fioodwood. The noise I
140 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
made usually startled them, when they moved off and
plunged into the deepest places. Sometimes, how-
ever, I would come directly upon a monster before
observing it. In such cases, I would start back, run
a short way round, and in that manner shun them.
Straight forward, they will run a short distance rapidly,
but do not possess the power of turning. In a crook-
ed race, there is no difficulty in evading them.
About two o'clock in the afternoon, I heard the
last of the hounds. Probably they did not cross the
bayou. "Wet and weary, but relieved from the sense
of instant peril, I continued on, more cautious and
afraid, however, of the snakes and alligators than I
had been in the earlier portion of my flight. ]STow,
before stepping into a muddy pool, I would strike
the water with a stick. If the waters moved, I would
go around it, if not, would venture through.
At length the sun went down, and gradually night's
trailing mantle shrouded the great swamp in dark-
ness. Still I staggered on, fearing every instant I
should feel the dreadful sting of the moccasin, or be
crushed within the jaws of some disturbed alligator.
The dread of them now almost equaled the fear of
the pursuing hounds. The moon arose after a time,
its mild light creeping through the overspreading
branches, loaded with long, pendent moss. I kept
traveling forwards until after midnight, hoping all
the while that I would soon emerge into some less
desolate and dangerous region. But the water grew
deeper and the walking more difficult than ever. I
NIGHT IN" THE SWAMP. 141
perceived it would be impossible to proceed much,
farther, and knew not, moreover, what hands I might
fall into, should I succeed in reaching a human hab-
itation. Not provided with a pass, any white man
would be at liberty to arrest me, and place me in
prison until such time as my master should " prove
property, pay charges, and take me away." I was an
estray, and if so unfortunate as to meet a law-abiding
citizen of Louisiana, he would deem it his duty to his
neighbor, perhaps, to put me forthwith in the pound.
Really, it vas difficult to determine which I had most
reason to fear — dogs, alligators or men !
After midnight, however, I came to a halt. Ima-
gination cannot picture the dreariness of the scene.
The swamp was resonant with the quacking of innu-
merable ducks ! Since the foundation of the earth,
in all probability, a human footstep had never before
so far penetrated the recesses of the swamp. It was
not silent now — silent to a degree that rendered it
oppressive, —as it was when the sun was shining in
the heavens. My midnight intrusion had awakened
the feathered tribes, which seemed to throng the mo-
rass in hundreds of thousands, and their garrulous
throats poured forth such multitudinous sounds — ■
there was such a fluttering of wings — such sullen
plunges in the water all around me — that I was af-
frighted and appalled. All the fowls of the air, and
all the creeping things of the earth appeared to have
assembled together in that particular place, for the
purpose of filling it with clamor and confusion. Not
142 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
by human dwellings — not in crowded cities alone,
are the sights and sounds of life. The wildest places
of the earth are full of them. Even in the heart of
that dismal swamp, God had provided a refuge and a
dwelling place for millions of living things.
The moon had now risen above the trees, when I
resolved upon a new project. Thus far Iliad endeav-
ored to travel as nearly south as possible. Turning
about I proceeded in a north-west direction, my ob-
ject being to strike the Pine "Woods in the vicinity of
Master Ford's. Once within the shadow of his pro-
tection, I felt I would be comparatively safe.
My clothes were in tatters, my hands, face, and
body covered with scratches, received from the sharp
knots of fallen trees, and in climbing over piles of
brush and fioodwood. My bare foot was full of thorns.
I was besmeared with muck and mud, and the green
slime that had collected on the surface of the dead
water, in which I had been immersed to the neck
many times during the day and night. Hour after
hour, and tiresome indeed had they become, I contin-
ued to plod along on my north-west course. The wa-
ter began to grow less deep, and the ground more firm
under my feet. At last I reached the Pacoudrie, the
same wide bayou I had swam while " outward
bound." I swam it again, and shortly after thought
I heard a cock crow, but the sound was faint, and it
might have been a mockery of the ear. The water
■receded from my advancing footsteps — now I had
left the bogs behind me — now I was on dryland
THE SLAVE AND HIS MASTER. 143
tliat gradually ascended to the plain, and I knew \
was somewhere in the " Great Pine Woods."
Just at day -break I came to an opening — a sort of
small plantation — but one I had never seen before.
In the edge of the woods I came upon two men, a
slave and his young master, engaged in catching wild
hogs. The white man I knew would demand my
pass, and not able to give him one, would take me
into possession. I was too wearied to run again, and
too desperate to be taken, and therefore adopted a
ruse that proved entirely successful. Assuming a
fierce expression, I walked directly towards him, look-
ing him steadily in the face. As I approached, he
moved backwards with an air of alarm. It was plain
he was much affrighted — that he looked upon me as
some infernal goblin, just arisen from the bowels of
the swamp !
" "Where does William Ford live ? " I demanded, in
no gentle tone.
" He lives seven miles from here," was the reply.
" Which is the way to his place ? " I again demand-
ed, trying to look more fiercely than ever.
" Do you see those pine trees yonder ? " he asked,
pointing to two, a mile distant, that rose far above
their fellows, like a couple of tall sentinels, overlook-
ing the broad expanse of forest.
" I see them," was the answer.
" At the feet of those pine trees," he continued,
" runs the Texas road. Turn to the left, and it will
lead you to William Ford's."
144 TWELVE TEARS A SLAVE.
"Without further parley, I hastened forward, happy
as he was, no doubt, to place the widest possible dis-
tance between us. Striking the Texas road, I turned
to the left hand, as directed, and soon passed a great
fire, where a pile of logs were burning. I went to it,
thinking I would dry my clothes ; but the gray light
of the morning was fast breaking away, — some pass-
ing white man might observe me ; besides, the heat
overpowered me with the desire of sleep : so, linger-
ing no longer, I continued my travels, and finally,
about eight o'clock, reached the house of Master Ford.
The slaves were all absent from the quarters, at
their work. Stepping on to the piazza, I knocked at
the door, which was soon opened by Mistress Ford.
My appearance was so changed — I was in such a wo-
begone and forlorn condition, she did not know me.
Inquiring if Master Ford was at home, that good man
made his appearance, before the question could be
answered. I told him of my flight, and all the par-
ticulars connected with it. He listened attentively,
and when I had concluded, spoke to me kindly and
sympathetically, and taking me to the kitchen, called
John, and ordered him to prepare me food. I had
tasted nothing since daylight the previous morning.
"When John had set the meal before me, the madam
came out with a bowl of milk, and many little deli-
cious dainties, such as rarely please the palate of a
slave. I was hungry, and I was weary, but neither
food nor rest afforded half the pleasure as did the
blessed voices speaking kindness and consolation. It
FOOD AND BEST. 145
was the oil and the wine which the Good Samaritan
in the " Great Pine Woods " was ready to pour into
the wounded spirit of the slave, who came to him,
stripped of his raiment and half-dead.
They left me in the cabin, that I might rest. Blessed
be sleep ! It visiteth all alike, descending as the dews
of heaven on the bond and free. Soon it nestled to my
bosom, driving away the troubles that oppressed it, and
bearing me to that shadowy region, where I saw again
the faces, and listened to the voices of my children,
who, alas, for aught I knew in my waking hours, had
fallen into the arms of that other sleep, from which
they never would arouse.
THE MISTRESS' GARDEN THE CRIMSON AND GOLDEN FRUIT ORANGB
AND POMEGRANATE TREES RETURN TO BAYOU BCEUF MASTER FORD's
REMARKS ON THE WAY THE MEETING WITH TrBEATS HIS ACCOUNT OF
THE CHASE FORD CENSURES HIS BRUTALITY ARRIVAL AT THE PLANTA-
TION ASTONISHMENT OF THE SLAVES ON SEEING ME THE ANTICIPATED
FLOGGING KENTUCKY JOHN MR. ELDRET, THE PLANTER ELDRET's
SAM TRIP TO THE "BIG CANE BRAKE" THE TRADITION OF "SUTTON'S
FIELD" FOREST TREES GNATS AND MOSQUITOS THE ARRIVAL OF BLACK
WOMEN IN THE BIG CANE LUMBER WOMEN SUDDEN APPEARANCE OF
TIBEATS HIS PROVOKING TREATMENT VISIT TO BAYOU BCEUF THE
8LAVE PASS SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY THE LAST OF ELIZA SALE TO
After a long sleep, sometime in the afternoon I
awoke, refreshed, but very sore and stiff. Sally came
in and talked with me, while John cooked me some
dinner. Sally was in great trouble, as well as myself,
one of her children being ill, and she feared it could
not survive. Dinner over, after walking about the
quarters for a while, visiting Sally's cabin and looking
at the sick child, I strolled into the madam's garden.
Though it was a season of the year when the voices
of the birds are silent, and the trees are stripped of
their summer glories in more frigid climes, yet the
whole variety of roses were then blooming there, and
THE MISTRESS' GARDEN. 147
the long, luxuriant vines creeping over the frames.
The crimson and golden fruit hung half hidden amidst
the younger and older blossoms of the peach, the or-
ange, the plum, and the pomegranate ; for, in that
region of almost perpetual warmth, the leaves are
falling and the buds bursting into bloom the whole
I indulged the most grateful feelings towards Mas-
ter and Mistress Ford, and wishing in some manner
to repay their kindness, commenced trimming the
vines, and afterwards weeding out the grass from
among the orange and pomegranate trees. The latter
grows eight or ten feet high, and its fruit, though lar-
ger, is similar in appearance to the jelly -flower. It
has the luscious flavor of the strawberry. Oranges,
peaches, plums, and most other fruits are indigenous
to the rich, warm soil of Avoyelles ; but the apple, the
most common of them all in colder latitudes, is rare-
ly to be seen.
Mistress Ford came out presently, saying it was
praise-worthy in me, but I was not in a condition to la-
bor, and might rest myself at the quarters until mas-
ter should go down to Bayou Bceuf, which would not
be that day, and it might not be the next. I said to
her — to be sure, I felt bad, and was stiff, and that
my foot pained me, the stubs and thorns having so
torn it , but thought such exercise would not hurt
me, and that it was a great pleasure to work for so
good a mistress. Thereupon she returned to the great
house, and for three days I was diligent in the garden,
148 TWELVE TEAE3 A SLATE.
cleaning the walks, weeding the flower beds, and
pulling up the rank grass beneath the jessamine vines,
which the gentle and generous hand of my protectress
had taught to clamber along the walls.
The fourth morning, having become recruited and
refreshed, Master Ford ordered me to make ready to
accompany him to the bayou. There was but one
saddle horse at the opening, all the others with
the mules having been sent down to the plantation.
I said I could walk, and bidding Sally and John good-
bye, left the opening, trotting along by the horse's
That little paradise in the Great Pine Woods was
the oasis in the desert, towards which my heart turn-
ed lovingly, during many years of bondage. I went
forth from it now with regret and sorrow, not so over-
whelming, however, as if it had then been given me
to know that I should never return to it again.
Master Ford urged me to take his place occasion-
ally on the horse, to rest me ; but I said no, I was not
tired, and it was better for me to walk than him. He
said many kind and cheering things to me on the way,
riding slowly, in order that I might keep pace with
him. The goodness of God was manifest, he declared,
in my miraculous escape from the swamp. As Dan-
iel came forth unharmed from the den of lions, and
as Jonah had been preserved in the whale's belly,
even so had I been delivered from evil by the Al-
mighty. He interrogated me in regard to the various
fears and emotions I had experienced during the day
ford's remarks on the WAT. 149
and night, and if I had felt, at any time, a desire to
pray. I felt forsaken of the whole world, I answered
him, and was praying mentally all the while. At
snch times, said he, the heart of man turns instinct-
ively towards his Maker. In prosperity, and when
there is nothing to injure or make him afraid, he re-
members Him not, and is ready to defy Him ; but
place him in the midst of dangers, cut him off from
human aid, let the grave open before him — then it
is, in the time of his tribulation, that the scoffer and
unbelieving man turns to God for help, feeling there
is no other hope, or refuge, or safety, save in his pro-
So did that benignant man speak to me of this life
and of the life hereafter ; of the goodness and power
of God, and of the vanity of earthly things, as we
journeyed along the solitary road towards Bayou
When within some five miles of the plantation, we
discovered a horseman at a distance, galloping tow-
ards us. As he came near I saw that it was Tibeats !
He looked at me a moment, but did not address me,
and turning about, rode along side by side with Ford.
I trotted silently at their horses' heels, listing to their
conversation. Ford informed him of my arrival in
the Pine "Woods three days before, of the sad plight I
was in, and of the difficulties and dangers I had en-
" "Well," exclaimed Tibeats, omitting his usual oaths
in the presence of Ford, " I never saw such running
150 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
before. I'll bet him against a hundred dollars, he'll
beat any nigger in Louisiana. I offered John David
Cheney twenty-five dollars to catch him, dead or alive,
but he outran his dogs in a fair race. Them Cheney
dogs ain't much, after all. Dunwoodie's hounds
would have had him down before he touched the pal-
mettoes. Somehow the dogs got off the track, and we
had to give up the hunt. We rode the horses as far
as we could, and then kept on foot till the water was
three feet deep. The boys said he was drowned, sure.
I allow I wanted a shot at him mightily. Ever since,
I have been riding up and down the bayou, but had'nt
much hope of catching him — thought he was dead,
sartin. Oh, he's a cuss to run — that nigger is !"
In this way Tibeats ran on, describing his search in
the swamp, the wonderful speed with which I had
fled before the hounds, and when he had finished,
Master Ford responded by saying, I had always been
a willing and faithful boy with him ; that he was sor-
ry we had such trouble ; that, according to Piatt's
story, he had been inhumanly treated, and that he,
Tibeats, was himself in fault. Using hatchets and
broad-axes upon slaves was shameful, and should not
be allowed, he remarked. "This is no way of dealing
with them, when first brought into the country. It
will have a pernicious influence, and set them all run-
ning away. The swamps will be full of them. A lit-
tle kindness would be far more effectual in restraining
them, and rendering them obedient, than the use of
such deadly weapons. Every planter on the bayou
FOKD CENSURES TTBEATS. 151
should frown upon such inhumanity. It is for the in-
terest of all to do so. It is evident enough, Mr. Tib-
eats, that you and Piatt cannot live together. You
dislike him, and would not hesitate to kill him, and
knowing it, he will run from you again through fear
of his life. Now, Tibeats, you must sell him, or hire
him out, at least. Unless you do so, I shall take
measures to get him out of your possession."
In this spirit Ford addressed him the remainder of
the distance. I opened not my mouth. On reaching
the plantation they entered the great house, while I
repaired to Eliza's cabin. The slaves were astonish-
ed to find me there, on returning from the field, sup-
posing I was drowned. That night, again, they gath-
ered about the cabin to listen to the story of my
adventure. They took it for granted I would be whip-
ped, and that it would be severe, the well-known pen-
alty of running away being five hundred lashes.
" Poor fellow," said Eliza, taking me by the hand,
" it would have been better for you if you had drown-
ed. You have a cruel master, and he will kill you
yet, I am afraid."
Lawson suggested that it might be, overseer Cha-
pin would be appointed to inflict the punishment, in
which case it would not be severe, whereupon Mary,
Rachel, Bristol, and others hoped it would be Master
Ford, and then it would be no whipping at all. They
all pitied me and tried to console me, and were sad in
view of the castigation that awaited me, except Ken-
tucky John. There were no bounds to his laughter ;
152 TWELVE TEAKS A SLAVE.
lie filled the cabin with cachinnations, holding his sides
to prevent an explosion, and the cause of his noisy
mirth was the idea of my outstripping the hounds.
Somehow, he looked at the subject in a comical light.
" I hnow'd dey would'nt cotch him, when he run cross
de plantation. O, de lor', did'nt Piatt pick his feet
right up, tho', hey ? When dem dogs got whar he
was, he was'nt dar — haw, haw, haw ! O, de lor' a'
mity !" — and then Kentucky John relapsed into an-
other of his boisterous fits.
Early the next morning, Tibeats left the plantation.
In the course of the forenoon, while sauntering about
the gin-house^ a tall, good-looking man came to me,
and inquired if I was Tibeats' boy, that youthful ap-
pellation being applied indiscriminately to slaves
even though they may have passed the number of
three score years and ten. I took off my hat, and an-
swered that I was.
"How would you like to work for me?" he in-
" Oh, I would like to, very much," said I, inspired
with a sudden hope of getting away from Tibeats.
" You worked under Myers at Peter Tanner's, didn't
you ? "
I replied I had, adding some complimentary re-
marks that Myers had made concerning me.
" Well, boy," said he, " I have hired you of your
master to work for me in the " Big Cane Brake,"
thirty-eight miles from here, clown on Red River."
This man was Mr. Eldret, who lived below Ford's,
ELDEET, THE PLANTER. 153
on the same side of the bayou. I accompanied him
to his plantation, and in the morning started with his
slave Sam, and a Avagon-load of provisions, drawn by
four mules, for the Big Cane, Eldret and Myers hav-
ing preceded us on horseback. This Sam was a na-
tive of Charleston, where he had a mother, brother
and sisters. He " allowed " — a common word among
both black and white — that Tibeats was a mean man,
and hoped, as I most earnestly did also, that his mas-
ter would buy me.
"We proceeded down the south shore of the bayou,
crossing it at Carey's plantation ; from thence to Huff
Power, passing which, we came upon the Bayou
Rouge road, which runs towards Red River. After
passing through Bayou Rouge Swamp, .and just at
sunset, turning from the highway, we struck off into
the " Big Cane Brake." We followed an unbeaten
track, scarcely wide enough to admit the wagon.
The cane, such as are used for fishing-rods, were as
thick as they could stand. A person could not be
seen through them the distance of a rod. The paths
of wild beasts run through them in various directions
— the bear and the American tiger abounding in these
brakes, and wherever there is a basin of stagnant wa-
ter, it is full of alligators.
We kept on our lonely course through the " Big
Cane" several miles, when we entered a clearing,
known as " Sutton's Field." Many years before, a
man by the name of Sutton had penetrated the wilder-
ness of cane to this solitary place. Tradition has it,
154 TWELVE YEAE3 A SLATE.
that he fled thither, a fugitive, not from service, but
from justice. Here he lived alone — recluse and her-
mit of the swamp — with his own hands planting the
seed and gathering in the harvest. One day a band
of Indians stole upon his solitude, and after a bloody
battle, overpowered and massacred him. For miles
the country round, in the slaves' quarters, and on the
piazzas of " great houses," where white children listen
to superstitious tales, the story goes, that that spot, in
the heart of the "Big Cane," is a haunted place. For
more than a quarter of a century, human voices had
rarely, if ever, disturbed the silence of the clearing.
Kank and noxious weeds had overspread the once cul-
tivated field — serpents sunned themselves on the door-
way of the crumbling cabin. It was indeed a dreary
picture of desolation.
Passing " Sutton's Field," we followed a new-cnt
road two miles farther, which brought us to its ter-
mination. We had now reached the wild lands of
Mr. Eldret, where he contemplated clearing up an
extensive plantation. We went to work next morn-
ing with our cane-knives, and cleared a sufficient
space to allow the erection of two cabins — one for
Myers and Eldret, the other for Sam, myself, and the
slaves that were to join us. We were now in the
midst of trees of enormous growth, whose wide-spread-
ing branches almost shut out the light of the sun,
while the space between the trunks was an . impervi-
ous mass of cane, with here and there an occasional
LIFE IX THE BIG CANE BRAKE. 155
The bay and the sycamore, the oak and the cypress,
reach a growth unparalleled, in those fertile lowlands
bordering the Red River. From every tree, moreover,
hang long, large masses of moss, presenting to the eye
unaccustomed to them, a striking and singular appear-
ance. This moss, in large quantities, is sent north,
and there used for manufacturing purposes.
We cut down oaks, split them into rails, and with
these erected temporary cabins. We covered the
roofs with the broad palmetto leaf, an excellent sub-
stitute for shingles, as long as they last.
The greatest annoyance I met with here were small
flies, gnats and mosquitoes. They swarmed the air.
They penetrated the porches of the ear, the nose, the
eyes, the mouth. They sucked themselves beneath
the skin. It was impossible to brush or beat them
off. It seemed, indeed, as if they would devour us —
carry us away piecemeal, in their small tormenting
A lonelier spot, or one more disagreeable, than the
centre of the " Big Cane Brake," it would be difficult
to conceive ; yet to me it was a paradise, in compari-
son with any other place in the company of Master
Tibeats. I labored hard, and oft-times was weary and
fatigued, yet I could lie down at night in peace, and
arise in the morning without fear.
In the course of a fortnight, four black girls came
down from Eldret's plantation — Charlotte, Fanny,
Cresia and Nelly. They were all large and stout.
Axes were put into their hands, and they were sent
156 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
out with Sam and myself to cut trees. They were
excellent choppers, the largest oak or sycamore stand-
ing but a brief season before their heavy and well-
directed blows. At piling logs, they were equal to
any man. There are lumberwomen as well as lum-
bermen in the forests of the South. In fact, in the
region of the Bayou Bceuf they perform their share of
all the labor required on the plantation. They plough,
drag, drive team, clear wild lands, work on the high-
way, and so forth. Some planters, owning large cot-
ton and sugar plantations, have none other than the
labor of slave women. Such an one is Jim Burns,
who lives on the north shore of the bayou, opposite
the plantation of John Fogaman.
On our arrival in the brake, Eldret promised me,
if I worked well, I might go up to visit my friends at
Ford's in four weeks. On Saturday night of the fifth
week, I reminded him of his promise, when he told
me I had done so well, that I might go. I had set
my heart upon it, and Eldret's announcement thrilled
me with pleasure. I was to return in time to com-
mence the labors of the day on Tuesday morning.
While indulging the pleasant anticipation of so soon
meeting my old friends again, suddenly the hateful
form of Tibeats appeared among us. He inquired
how Myers and Piatt got along together, and was
told, very well, and that Piatt was going up to Ford's
plantation in the morning on a visit.
" Poh, poh ! " sneered Tibeats ; " it isn't worth while
— the nigger will get unsteady. He can't go."
TREATMENT OF TIBEATS. 157
But Eldret insisted- 1 had worked faithfully — that
he had given me his promise, and that, under the cir-
cumstances, I ought not to be disappointed. They
then, it being about dark, entered one cabin and I
the other. I could not give up the idea of going ; it
was a sore disappointment. Before morning I resolved,
if Eldret made no objection, to leave at all hazards.
At daylight I was at his door, with my blanket rolled
up into a bundle, and hanging on a stick over my
shoulder, waiting for a pass. Tibeats came out pre-
sently in one of his disagreeable moods, washed his
face, and going to a stump near by, sat down upon it,
apparently busily thinking with himself. After stand-
ing there a long time, impelled by a sudden impulse
of impatience, I started off.
" Are you going without a pass ? " he cried out
" Yes, master, I thought I would," I answered.
" How do you think you'll get there ? " demanded
" Don't know," was all the reply I made him.
" You'd be taken and sent to jail, where you ought
to be, before you got half-way there," he added, pass-
ing into the cabin as he said it. He came out soon
with the pass in his hand, and calling me a " d — d nig-
ger that deserved a hundred lashes," threw it on the
ground. I picked it up, and hurried away right
A slave caught off his master's plantation without
a pass, may be seized and whipped by any white man
158 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
whom he meets. The one I now received was dated,
and read as follows :
" Piatt has permission to go to Ford's plantation,
on Bayou Boeuf, and return by Tuesday morning.
John M. Tibeats."
This is the usual form. On the way, a great many
demanded it, read it, and passed on. Those having
the air and appearance of gentlemen, whose dress
indicated the possession of wealth, frequently took no
notice of me whatever ; but a shabby fellow, an un-
mistakable loafer, never failed to hail me, and to
scrutinize and examine me in the most thorough man-
ner. Catching runaways is sometimes a money-mak-
ing business. If, after advertising, no owner appears,
they may be sold to the highest bidder ; and certain
fees are allowed the finder for his services, at all
events, even if reclaimed. "A mean white," there-
fore, — a name applied to the species loafer — con-
siders it a god-send to meet an unknown negro with-
out a pass.
There are no inns along the highways in that por-
tion of the State where I sojourned. I was wholly
destitute of money, neither did I carry any provisions,
on my journey from the Big Cane to Bayou Boenf ;
nevertheless, with his pass in his hand, a slave need
never suffer from hunger or from thirst. It is only
necessary to present it to the master or overseer of a
plantation, and state his wants, when he will be sent
round to the kitchen and provided with food or shel-
ter, as the case may require. The traveler stops at
TISIT TO BAYOU BCEUF. 159
any house and calls for a meal with as much freedom
as if it was a public tavern. It is the general custom
of the country. Whatever their faults may be, it is
certain the inhabitants along Red River, and around
the bayous in the interior of Louisiana are not want-
ing in hospitality. ■
I arrived at Ford's plantation towards the close of
the afternoon, passing the evening in Eliza's cabin,
with Lawson, Rachel, and others of my acquaintance.
"When we left Washington Eliza's form was round and
plump. She stood erect, and in her silks and jewels,
presented a picture of graceful strength and elegance.
Now she was but a thin shadow of her former self.
Her face had become ghastly haggard, and the once
straight and active form was bowed down, as if bear-
ino- the weight of a hundred years. Crouching on her
cabin floor, and clad in the coarse garments of a slave,
old Elisha Berry would not have recognized the moth-
er of his child. I never saw her afterwards. Having
become useless in the cotton-field, she was bartered
for a trifle, to some man residing in the vicinity of
Peter Compton's. Grief had gnawed remorselessly at
her heart, until her strength was gone ; and for that,
her last master, it is said, lashed and abused her most
unmercifully. But he could not whip back the de-
parted vigor of her youth, nor straighten up that bend-
ed body to its full height, such as it was when her
children were around her, and the light of freedom
was shining on her path.
I learned the particulars relative to her departure
160 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
from this world, from some of Compton's slaves, who
had come over Red River to the bayou, to assist
young Madam Tanner during the " busy season."
She became at length, they said, utterly helpless, for
several weeks lying on the ground floor in a dilapida-
ted cabin, dependent upon the mercy of her fellow-
thralls for an occasional drop of water, and a morsel
of food. Her master did not " knock her on the
head," as is sometimes done to put a suffering animal
out of misery, but left her unprovided for, and unpro-
tected, to linger through a life of pain and wretched-
ness to its natural close. When the hands returned
from the field one night they found her dead ! Du-
ring the day, the Angel of the Lord, who moveth in-
visibly over all the earth, gathering in his harvest of
departing souls, had silently entered the cabin of the
dying woman, and taken her from thence. She was
free at last !
Next day, rolling up my blanket, I started on my
return to the Big Cane. After traveling five miles,
at a place called Huff Power, the ever-present Tibe-
ats met me in the road. He inquired why I was go-
ing back so soon, and when informed I was anxious
to return by the time I was directed, he said I need
go no farther than the next plantation, as he had that
day sold me to Edwin Epps. We walked clown into
the yard, where we met the latter gentleman, who ex-
amined me, and asked me the usual questions pro-
pounded by purchasers. Having been duly delivered
over, I was ordered to the quarters, and at the same
SALE TO EDWIN EPPS. 161
time directed to make a hoe and axe handle for my-
I was now no longer the property of Tibeats — his
dog, his brute, dreading his wrath and cruelty day
and night ; and whoever or whatever my new master
might prove to be, I could not, certainly, regret the
change. So it was good news when the sale was an-
nounced, and with a sigh of relief I sat down for the
first time in my new abode.
Tibeats soon after disappeared from that section of
the country. Once afterwards, and only once, I
caught a glimpse of him. It was many miles from
Bayou Bceuf. He was seated in the doorway of a
low groggery. I was passing, in a drove of slaves,
through St. Mary's parish.
PERSONAL APPEARANCE OF EPPS EPPS, DRUNK AND SOBER A GLIMPSE
OF HIS HISTORY COTTON GROWING THE MODE OF PLOUGHING AND
PREPARING GROUND OF PLANTING OF HOEING, OF PICKING, OF TREAT-
ING RAW HANDS THE DIFFERENCE IN COTTON PICKERS PATSET A
REMARKABLE ONE TASKED ACCORDING TO ABILITY BEAUTY OF A
COTTON FIELD THE SLAVE'S LABORS FEAR ON APPROACHING THE GIN-
HOUSE WEIGHING "CHORES" CABIN LIFE THE CORN MILL
THE USES OF THE GOURD FEAR OF OVERSLEEPING FEAR CONTINUAL-
LY MODE OF CULTIVATING CORN SWEET POTATOES FERTILITY OF
THE SOIL FATTENING HOGS PRESERVING BACON RAISING CATTLE^
SHOOTING-MATCHES GARDEN PRODUCTS FLOWERS AND VERDURE.
Edwin Epps, of whom much will be said during
the remainder of this history, is a large, portly, heavy-
bodied man with light hair, high cheek bones, and a
Roman nose of extraordinary dimensions. He has
blue eyes, a fair complexion, and is, as I should say,
full six feet high. He has the sharp, inquisitive ex-
pression of a jockey. His manners are repulsive
and coarse, and his language gives speedy and une-
quivocal evidence that he has never enjoyed the ad-
vantages of an education. He has the faculty of
saying most provoking things, in that respect even
excelling old Peter Tanner. At the time I came into
his possession, Edwin Epps was fond of the bottle, his
HABITS OF EDWIN EPPS. 163
" sprees'' sometimes extending over the space of two
"whole weeks. Latterly, however, he had reformed
his habits, and when I left him, was as strict a speci-
men of temperance as could be found on Bayou
Bceuf. AVlien " in his cups," Master Epps was a roys-
tering, blustering, noisy fellow, whose chief delight
was in dancing with his " niggers," or lashing them
about the yard with his long whip, just for the pleas-
ure of hearing them screech and scream, as the great
welts were planted on their backs. When sober, he
was silent, reserved and cunning, not beating us in-
discriminately, as in his drunken moments, but send-
ing the end of his rawhide to some tender spot of a
lagging slave, with a sly dexterity peculiar to himself.
He had been a driver and overseer in his younger
years, but at this time was in possession of a planta-
tion on Bayou Huff Power, two and a half miles from
Holmesville, eighteen from Marksville, and twelve
from Cheneyville. It belonged to Joseph B. Koberts,
his wife's uncle, and was leased by Epps. His prin-
cipal business was raising cotton, and inasmuch as
some may read this book who have never seen a cot-
ton field, a description of the manner of its culture
may not be out of place.
The ground is prepared by throwing up beds or
ridges, with the plough — back-furrowing, it is called.
Oxen and mules, the latter almost exclusively, are
used in ploughing. The women as frequently as the
men perform this Jabor, feeding, currying, and ta-
king care of their teams, and in all respects doing the
164 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
field and stable work, precisely as do the ploughboys
of the North.
The beds, or ridges, are six feet wide, that is, from
water furrow to water furrow. A plough drawn by
one mule is then run along the top of the ridge or
center of the bed, making the drill, into which a girl
usually drops the seed, which she carries in a bag
huug round her neck. Behind her comes a mule
and harrow, covering up the seed, so that two mules,
three slaves, a plough and harrow, are employed
in planting a row of cotton. This is done in the
months of March and April. Corn is planted in Feb-
ruary. When there are no cold rains, the cotton usu-
ally makes its appearance in a week. In the course
of eight or ten days afterwards the first hoeing is
commenced. This is performed in part, also, by the
aid of the plough and mule. The plough passes as
near as possible to the cotton on both sides, throw-
ing the furrow from it. Slaves follow with their hoes,
cutting up the grass and cotton, leaving hills two feet
and a half apart. This is called scraping cotton. In
two weeks more commences the second hoeing.
This time the furrow is thrown towards the cotton.
Only one stalk, the largest, is now left standing in
each hill. In another fortnight it is hoed the third
time, throwing the furrow towards the cotton in the
same manner as before, and killing all the grass be-
tween the rows. About the first of July, when it is
a foot high or thereabouts, it is hoed the fourth and
last time. JSTow the whole space between the rows
COTTON GROWING. 1G5
is ploughed, leaving a deep water furrow in the center.
During all these hoeings the overseer or driver
follows the slaves on horseback with a whip, such as
has been described. The fastest hoer takes the lead
row. He is usually about a rod in advance of his
companions. If one of them passes him, he is whip-
ped. If one falls behind or is a moment idle, he is
whipped. In fact, the lash is flying from morning
until night, the whole day long. The hoeing season
thus continues from April until July, a held having
no sooner been finished once, than it is commenced
In the latter part of August begins the cotton pick-
ing season. At this time each slave is presented
with a sack. A strap is fastened to it, which goes
over the neck, holding the mouth of the sack breast
high, while the bottom reaches nearly to the ground.
Each one is also presented with a large basket that
will hold about two barrels. This is to put the cotton
in when the sack is filled. The baskets are carried
to the field and placed at the beginning of the rows.
When a new hand, one unaccustomed to the busi-
ness, is sent for the first time into the field, he is
whipped up smartly, and made for that day to pick
as fast as he can possibly. At night it is weighed,
so that his capability in cotton picking is known.
He must bring in the same weight each night follow-
ing. If it falls short, it is considered evidence that
he has been laggard, and a greater or less number
of lashes is the penalty.
166 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
An ordinary day's work is two hundred pounds.
A slave who is accustomed to picking, is punished,
if he or she brings in a less quantity than that.
There is a great difference among them as regards
this kind of labor. Some of them seem to have a
natural knack, or quickness, which enables them to
pick with great celerity, and with both hands, while
others, with whatever practice or industry, are utterly
unable to come up to the ordinary standard. Such
hands are taken from the cotton field and employed
in other business. Patsey, of whom I shall have
more to say, was known as the most remarkable cot-
ton picker on Bayou Boeuf. She picked with both
hands and with such surprising rapidity, that five
hundred pounds a day was not unusual for her.
Each one is tasked, therefore, according to his
picking abilities, none, however, to come short of two
hundred weight. I, being unskillful always in that
business, would have satisfied my master by bringing
in the latter quantity, while on the other hand, Pat-
sey would surely have been beaten if she failed to
produce twice as much.
The cotton grows from five to seven feet high, each
stalk having a great many branches, shooting out in
all directions, and lapping each other above the wa-
There are few sights more pleasant to the eye,
than a wide cotton field when it is in the bloom. It
presents an appearance of purity, like an immaculate
expanse of light, new-fallen snow.
COTTON PICKING. 167
Sometimes the slave picks down one side of a row,
and back upon the other, but more usually, there is
one on either side, gathering all that has blossomed,
leaving the unopened bolls for a succeeding picking.
"When the sack is filled, it is emptied into the basket and
trodden down. It is necessary to be extremely care-
ful the first time going through the field, in order not
to break the branches off the stalks. The cotton
will not bloom upon a broken branch. Epps never
failed to inflict the severest chastisement on the un-
lucky servant who, either carelessly or unavoidably,
was guilty in the least degree in this respect.
The hands are required to be in the cotton field as
soon as it is light in the morning, and, with the ex-
ception of ten or fifteen minutes, which is given them
at noon to swallow their allowance of cold bacon,
they are not permitted to be a moment idle until it
is too dark to see, and when the moon is full, they
often times labor till the middle of the night. They
do not dare to stop even at dinner time, nor return
to the quarters, however late it be, until the order to
halt is given by the driver.
The clay's work over in the field, the baskets are
" toted," or in other words, carried to the gin-house,
where the cotton is weighed. No matter how fa-
tigued and weary he may be — no matter how much
he longs for sleep and rest — a slave never approaches
the gin-house with his basket of cotton but with fear.
If it falls short in weight — if he has not performed
the full task appointed him, he knows that he must
1G8 TWELVE YEARS A SLATE.
suffer. And if he lias exceeded it by ten or twenty
pounds, in all probability his master will measure the
next day's task accordingly. So, whether he has too
little or too much, his approach to the gin-house is
always with fear and trembling. Most frequently
they have too little, and therefore it is they are not
anxious to leave the held. After weighing, follow the
whippings ; and then the baskets are carried to the
cotton house, and their contents stored away like hay,
all hands being sent in to tramp it down. If the cot-
ton is not dry, instead of taking it to the gin-house
at once, it is laid upon platforms, two feet high, and
some three times as wide, covered with boards or
plank, with narrow walks running between them.
This done, the labor of the day is not yet ended, by
any means. Each one must then attend to his re-
spective chores. One feeds the mules, another the
swine — another cuts the wood, and so forth ; besides,
the packing is all done by candle light. Finally, at
a late hour, they reach the quarters, sleepy and over-
come with the long day's toil. Then a fire must be
kindled in the cabin, the corn ground in the small
hand-mill, and supper, and dinner for the next day in
the field, prepared. All that is allowed them is corn
and bacon, which is given out at the corncrib and
smoke-house every Sunday morning. Each one re-
ceives, as his weekly, allowance, three and a half
pounds of bacon, and corn enough to make a peck of
meal. That is all — no tea, coffee, sugar, and with
the exception of a very scanty sprinkling now and
CABEST LIFE. 169
then, no salt. I can say, from a ten years' residence
with Master Epps, that no slave of his is ever likely
to suffer from the gout, superinduced by excessive
high living. Master Epps' hogs were fed on shelled
corn — it was thrown out to his "niggers" in the
ear. The former, he thought, would fatten faster by
shelling, and soaking it in the water — -the latter,
perhaps, if treated in the same manner, might grow
too fat to labor. Master Epps was a shrewd cal-
culator, and knew how to manage his own animals,
drunk or sober.
The corn mill stands in the yard beneath a shelter.
It is like a common coffee mill, the hopper holding
about six quarts. There was one privilege which
Master Epps granted freely to every slave he had.
They might grind their corn nightly, in such small
quantities as their daily wants required, or they
might grind the whole week's allowance at one time,
on Sundays, just as they preferred. A very gener-
ous man was Master Epps !
I kept my corn in a small wooden box, the meal in
a gourd ; and, by the way, the gourd is one of the '
most convenient and necessary utensils on a planta-
tion. Besides supplying the place of all kinds of
crockery in a slave cabin, it is used for carrying
water to the fields. Another, also, contains the din-
ner. It dispenses with the necessity of pails, dippers,
basins, and such tin and wooden superfluities alto-
When the corn is ground, and fire is made, the
170 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
bacon is taken down from the nail on which it hangs,
a slice cut off and thrown npon the coals to broil.
The majority of slaves have no knife, much less a
fork. They cut their bacon with the axe at the wood-
pile. The corn meal is mixed with a little water,
placed in the fire, and baked. When it is "done
brown," the ashes are scraped off, and being placed
upon a chip, which answers for a table, the tenant of
the slave hut is ready to sit down upon the ground to
supper. By this time it is usually midnight. The
same fear of punishment with which they approach
the gin-house, possesses them again on lying down to
get a snatch of rest. It is the fear of oversleeping in
the morning. Such an offence would certainly be
attended with not less than twenty lashes. With a
prayer that he may be on his feet and wide awake at
the first sound of the horn, he sinks to his slumbers
The softest couches in the world are not to be found
in the log mansion of the slave. The one whereon I
reclined year after year, was a plank twelve inches
wide and ten feet long. My pillow was a stick of
wood. The Oedding was a coarse blanket, and not a
rag or shred beside. Moss might be used, were it not
that it directly breeds a swarm of fleas.
The cabin is constructed of logs, without floor or
window. The latter is altogether unnecessary, the
crevices between the logs admitting sufficient light.
In stormy weather the rain drives through them,
rendering it comfortless and extremely disagreeable.
THE SLAVE'S LAB0KS. 171
The rude door hangs on great wooden hinges. In one
end is constructed an awkward fire-place.
An hour before day light the horn is blown. Then
the slaves arouse, prepare their breakfast, fill a gourd
with water, in another deposit their dinner of cold
bacon and corn cake, and hurry to the field again.
It is an offence invariably followed by a flogging, to
be found at the quarters after daybreak. Then the
fears and labors of another day begin ; and until its
close there is no such thing as rest. He fears he will
be caught lagging through the day ; he fears to
approach the gin-house with his basket-load of cotton
at night ; he fears, when he lies down, that he will
oversleep himself in the morning. Such is a true,
faithful, unexaggerated picture and description of
the slave's daily life, during the time of cotton-pick-
ing, on the shores of Bayou Boeuf.
In the month of January, generally, the fourth and
last picking is completed. Then commences the har-
vesting of corn. This is considered a secondary crop,
and receives far less attention than the cotton. It is
planted, as already mentioned, in February. Corn is
grown in that region for the purj30se of fattening
hogs and feeding slaves ; very little, if any, being sent
to market. It is the white variety, the ear of great
size, and the stalk growing to the height of eight,
and often times ten feet. In August the leaves are
■stripped off, dried in the sun, bound in small bundles,
and stored away as provender for the mules and oxen.
After this the slaves go through the field, turning
172 TWELVE YEAES A SLAVE.
down the ear, for the purpose of keeping the rains
from penetrating to the grain. It is left in this condi-
tion until after cotton-picking is over, whether earlier
or later. Then the ears are separated from the stalks,
and deposited in the corncrib with the husks on;
otherwise, stripped of the husks, the weevil would
destroy it. The stalks are left standing in the field.
The Carolina, or sweet potato, is also grown in that
region to some extent. They are not fed, however,
to hogs or cattle, and are considered but of small im-
portance. They are preserved by placing them upon
the surface of the ground, with a slight covering of
earth or cornstalks. There is not a cellar on Bayou
Bceuf. The ground is so low it would fill with water.
Potatoes are worth from two to three "bits," or
shillings a barrel ; corn, except when there is an
unusual scarcity, can be purchased at the same rate.
As soon as the cotton and corn crops are secured,
the stalks are pulled up, thrown into piles and burned.
The ploughs are started at the same time, throwing
up the beds again, preparatory to another planting.
The soil, in the parishes of Rapides and Avoyelles,
and throughout the whole country, so far as my. obser-
vation extended, is of exceeding richness and fertility.
It is a kind of marl, of a brown or reddish color. It
does not require those invigorating composts neces-
sary to more barren lands, and on the same field the
same crop is grown for many successive years.
Ploughing, planting, picking cotton, gathering the
corn, and pulling and burning stalks, occupies the
PRESERVING- BACON. 173
whole of the four seasons of the year. Drawing and
cutting wood, pressing cotton, fattening and killing
hogs, are but incidental labors.
In the month of September or October, the hogs
are run out of the swamps by dogs, and confined in
pens. On a cold morning, generally about New
Tear's day, they are slaughtered. Each carcass is
cut into six parts, and piled one above the other in
salt, upon large tables in the smoke-house. In this
condition it remains a fortnight, when it is hung up,
and a fire built, and continued more than half the
time during the remainder of the year. This thorough
smoking is necessary to prevent the bacon from be-
coming infested with worms. In so warm a climate
it is difficult to preserve it, and very many times my-
self and my companions have received our weekly
allowance of three pounds and a half, when it was
full of these disgusting vermin.
Although the swamps are overrun with cattle, they
are never made the source of profit, to any considera-
ble extent. The planter cuts his mark upon the ear,
or brands his initials upon the side, and turns them
into the swamps, to roam unrestricted within their
almost limitless confines. They are the Spanish breed,
small and spike-horned. I have known of droves
being taken from Bayou Boeuf, but it is of very rare
occurrence. The value of the best cows is about five
dollars each. Two quarts at one milking, would be
considered an unusual large quantity. They furnish
little tallow, and that of a soft, inferior quality. Not-
174 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
withstanding the great number of cows that throng
the swamps, the planters are indebted to the North
for their cheese and butter, which is purchased in the
!New-Orleans market. Salted beef is not an article of
food either in the great house, or in the cabin.
Master Epps was accustomed to attend shooting
matches for the purpose of obtaining what fresh beef
he required. These sports occurred weekly at the
neighboring 1 village of Holmesville. Fat beeves are
driven thither and shot at, a stipulated price being
demanded for the privilege. The lucky marksman
divides the flesh among his fellows, and in this man-
ner the attending planters are supplied.
The great number of tame and untamed cattle
which swarm the woods and swamps of Bayou Bceuf,
most probably suggested that appellation to the
French, inasmuch as the term, translated, signifies the
creek or river of the wild ox.
Garden products, such as cabbages, turnips and the
like, are cultivated for the use of the master and his
family. They have greens and vegetables at all times
and seasons of the year. " The grass withereth and
the flower fadeth" before the desolating winds of au-
tumn in the chill northern latitudes, but perpetual
verdure overspreads the hot lowlands, and flowers
bloom in the heart of winter, in the region of Bayou
There are no meadows appropriated to the cultiva-
tion of the grasses. The leaves of the corn supply a
sufficiency of food for the laboring cattle, while the
LIFE AT THE SOUTH. 175
rest provide for themselves all the year in the ever-
There are many other peculiarities of climate,
habit, custom, and of the manner of living and labor-
ing at the South, but the foregoing, it is supposed,
will give the reader an insight and general idea of
life on a cotton plantation in Louisiana. The mode
of cultivating cane, and the process of sugar manu-
facturing, will be mentioned in another place.
THE CURIOUS AXE-HELVE SYMPTOMS OF APPROACHING ILLNESS — CONTINUE
TO DECLINE THE "WHIP INEFFECTUAL CONFINED TO THE CABIN VISIT
BY DR. WINES PARTIAL RECOVERY FAILURE AT COTTON PICKING
"WHAT MAY BE HEARD ON EPPs' PLANTATION LASHES GRADUATED EPPS
IN A "WHIPPING MOOD EPPS IN A DANCING MOOD DESCRIPTION OF THE
DANCE LOSS OF REST NO EXCUSE EPPs' CHARACTERISTICS JIM BURNS
REMOVAL FROM HUFF POWER TO BAYOU BCEUF DESCRIPTION OF UNCLE
ABRAM ; OF WILEY ; OF AUNT PHEBE ; OF BOB, HENRY, AND EDWARD ; OF
PATSEYJ WITH A GENEALOGICAL ACCOUNT OF EACH SOMETHING OF THEIR
PAST HISTORY, AND PECULIAR CHARACTERISTICS JEALOUSY AND LUST
PATSEY, THE VICTIM.
On my arrival at Master Epps', in obedience to his
order, the first business upon which I entered was the
making of an axe-helve. The handles in use there
are simply a round, straight stick. I made a crooked
one, shaped like those to which I had been accustom-
ed at the North. When finished, and presented to
Epps, he looked at it with astonishment, unable to
determine exactly what it was. He had never before
seen such a handle, and when I explained its conveni-
ences, he was forcibly struck with the novelty of the
idea. He kept it in the house a long time, and when his
friends called, was wont to exhibit it as a curiosity.
It was now the season of hoeing. I was first sent
APPKOACHENG ILLNESS. 177
into the corn-field, and afterwards set to scraping cot-
ton. In this employment I remained until hoeing
time was nearly passed, when I began to experience
the symptoms of approaching illness. I was attacked
with chills, which were succeeded by a burning fever;
I became weak and emaciated, and frecpiently so diz-
zy that it caused me to reel and stagger like a drunk-
en man. Nevertheless, I was compelled to keep up
my row. "When in health I found little difficulty in
keeping pace with my fellow-laborers, but now it
seemed to be an utter impossibility. Often I fell be-
hind, when the driver's lash was sure to greet my
back, infusing into my sick and drooping body a little
temporary energy. I continued to decline until at
length the whip became entirely ineffectual. The
sharpest sting of the rawhide could not arouse me.
Finally, in September, when the busy season of cotton
picking was at hand, I was unable to leave my cabin.
Up to this time I had received no medicine, nor any
attention from my master or mistress. The old cook
visited me occasionally, preparing me corn-coffee, and
sometimes boiling a bit of bacon, when I had grown
too feeble to accomplish it myself.
When it was said that I would die, Master Epps,
unwilling to bear the loss, which the death of an ani-
mal worth a thousand dollars would bring upon him,
concluded to incur the expense of sending to Holmes-
ville for Dr. "Wines. He announced to Epps that it
was the effect of the climate, and there was a proba-
bility of his losing me. He directed me to eat no
178 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
meat, and to partake of no more food than was abso-
lutely necessary to sustain life. Several weeks elaps-
ed, during which time, under the scanty diet to which
I was subjected, I had partially recovered. One
morning, long before I was in a proper condition to
labor, Epps appeared at the cabin door, and, present-
ing me a sack, ordered me to the cotton field. At this
time I had had no experience whatever in cotton pick-
ing. It was an awkward business indeed. While
others used both hands, snatching the cotton and de-
positing it in the mouth of the sack, with a precision
and dexterity that was incomprehensible to me, I
had to seize the boll with one hand, and deliberately
draw out the white, gushing blossom with the other.
Depositing the cotton in the sack, moreover, was a
difficulty that demanded the exercise of both hands
and eyes. I was compelled to pick it from the ground
where it would fall, nearly as often as from the stalk
where it had grown. I made havoc also with the
branches, loaded with the yet unbroken bolls, the
long, cumbersome sack swinging from side to side in
a manner not allowable in the cotton field. After a
most laborious day I arrived at the gin-house with my
I load. When the scale determined its weight to be
only ninety -five pounds, not half the quantity required
of the poorest picker, Epps threatened the severest
flogging, but in consideration of my being a " raw
hand," concluded to pardon me on that occasion.
The following day, and many days succeeding, I re-
turned at nisdit with no better success — I was evi-
LASHES GRADUATED. 179
dently not designed for that kind of labor. I had not
the gift — the dexterous fingers and quick motion of
Patsey, who could fly along one side of a row of cot-
ton, stripping it of its underlie d and fleecy whiteness
miraculously fast. Practice and whipping were alike
unavailing, and Epps, satisfied of it at last, swore I was
a disgrace — that I was not fit to associate with a cot-
ton-picking "nigger" — that I could not pick enough
in a day to pay the trouble of weighing it, and that I
should go into the cotton field no more. I was now
employed in cutting and hauling wood, drawing cot-
ton from the field to the gin-house, and performed
whatever other service was required. Suffice to say,
I was never permitted to be idle.
It was rarely that a day passed by without one or
more whippings. This occurred at the time the cot-
ton was weighed. The delinquent, whose weight had
fallen short, was taken out, stripped, made to lie upon
the ground, face downwards, when he received a pun-
ishment proportioned to his offence. It is the literal,
unvarnished truth, that the crack of the lash, and
the shrieking of the slaves, can be heard from dark
till bed time, on Epps' plantation, any day almost
during the entire period of the cotton-picking season.
The number of lashes is graduated according to the
nature of the case. Twenty-five are deemed a mere
brush, inflicted, for instance, when a dry leaf or piece
of boll is found in the cotton, or when a branch is
broken in the field ; fifty is the ordinary penalty fol-
lowing all delinquencies of the next higher grade ; one
180 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
hundred is called severe : it is the punishment inflict-
ed for the serious offence of standing idle in the field ;
from one hundred and fifty to two hundred is bestow-
ed upon him who quarrels with his cabin-mates, and
five hundred, well laid on, besides the mangling of
the dogs, perhaps, is certain to consign the poor, un-
pitied runaway to weeks of pain and agony.
During the two years Epps remained on the plan-
tation at Bayou Huff Power, he was in the habit, as
often as once in a fortnight at least, of coming home
intoxicated from Holmesville. The shooting-matches
almost invariably concluded with a debauch. At such
times he was boisterous and half-crazy. Often he
would break the dishes, chairs, and whatever furni-
ture he could lay his hands on. "When satisfied with
his amusement in the house, he would seize the whip
and walk forth into the yard. Then it behooved the
slaves to be watchful and exceeding wary. The first
one who came within reach felt the smart of his lash.
Sometimes for hours he would keep them running in
all directions, dodging around the corners of the cab-
ins. Occasionally he would come upon one unawares,
and if he succeeded in inflicting a fair, round blow, it
was a feat that much delighted him. The younger
children, and the aged, who had become inactive,
suffered then. In the midst of the confusion he would
slily take his stand behind a cabin, waiting with rais-
ed whip, to dash it into the first black face that peep-
ed cautiously around the corner.
At other times he would come home in a less brutal
EPPS IN A DANCING MOOD. 181
humor. Then there must be a merry-making. Then
all must move to the measure of a tune. Then Mas-
ter Epps must needs regale his melodious ears with
the music of a fiddle. Then did he become buoyant,
elastic, gaily " tripping the light fantastic toe" around
the piazza and all through the house.
Tibeats, at the time of my sale, had informed
him I could play on the violin. He had receiv-
ed his information from Ford. Through the im-
portunities of Mistress Epps, her husband had been in-
duced to purchase me one during a visit to New-Or-
leans. Frequently I was called into the house to play
before the family, mistress being passionately fond of
All of us would be assembled in the large room of
the great house, whenever Epps came home in one of
his dancing moods. No matter how worn out and
tired we were, there must be a general dance. When
properly stationed on the floor, I would strike up a tune.
"Dance, you d — d niggers, dance," Epps would
Then there must be no halting or delay, no slow or
languid movements ; all must be brisk, and lively,
and alert. " Up and down, heel and toe, and away
we go," was the order of the hour. Epps' portly form
mingled with those of his dusky slaves, moving rap-
idly through all the mazes of the dance.
Usually his whip was in his hand, ready to fall
about the ears of the presumptuous thrall, who dared
to rest a moment, or even stop to catch his breath.
182 TWELVE YEAES A SLAVE.
When lie was himself exhausted, there would be a
brief cessation, but it would be very brief. With a
slash, and crack, and flourish of the whip, he would
shout again, " Dance, niggers, dance," and away they
w r ould go once more, pell-mell, while I. spurred by an
occasional sharp touch of the lash, sat in a corner, ex-
tracting from my violin a marvelous quick-stepping
tune. The mistress often upbraided him, declaring
she would return to her father's house at Cheney ville ;
nevertheless, there were times she could not restrain
a burst of laughter, on witnessing his uproarious
pranks. Frequently, we were thus detained until al-
most morning. Bent with excessive toil — actually
suffering for a little refreshing rest, and feeling rather
as if we could cast ourselves upon the earth and weep,
many a night in the house of Edwin Epps have his
unhappy slaves been made to dance and laugh.
Notwithstanding these deprivations in order to grat-
ify the whim of an unreasonable master, we had to
be in the field as soon as it was light, and during the
day perform the ordinary and accustomed task. Such
deprivations could not be urged at the scales in exten-
uation of any lack of weight, or in the cornfield for
not hoeing with the usual rapidity. The whippings
were just as severe as if we had gone forth in the
morning, strengthened and invigorated by a night's
repose. Indeed, after such frantic revels, he was
always more sour and savage than before, punishing
for slighter causes, and using the whip with increased
and more vindictive energy.
CHARACTER OF EPrS. 183
Ten years I toiled for that man without reward.
Ten years of my incessant labor has contributed to
increase the bulk of his possessions. Ten years I was
compelled to address him with down-cast eyes and
uncovered head — in the attitude and language of a
slave. I am indebted to him for nothing, save unde-
served abuse and stripes.
Beyond the reach of his inhuman thong, and stand-
ing on the soil of the free State where I was born,
thanks be to Heaven, I can raise my head once more
among men. I can speak of the wrongs I have suf-
fered, and of those who inflicted them, with upraised
eyes. But I have no desire to speak of him or any
other one otherwise than truthfully. Yet to speak
truthfully of Edwin Epps would be to say — he is a
man in whose heart the quality of kindness or of jus-
tice is not found. A rough, rude energy, united with
an uncultivated mind and an avaricious spirit, are his
prominent characteristics. He is known as a " nigger
breaker," distinguished for his faculty of subduing the
spirit of the slave, and priding himself upon his repu-
tation in this respect, as a jockey boasts of his skill in
managing a refractory horse. He looked upon a col-
ored man, not as a human being, responsible to his Crea-
tor for the small talent entrusted to him, but as a " chat-
tel personal," as mere live property, no better, except
in value, than his mule or dog. When the evidence,
clear and indisputable, was laid before him that I was
a free man, and as much entitled to my liberty as he
— when, on the day I left, he was informed that I
184 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
liad a wife and children, as dear to rne as his own
"babes to him, he only raved and swore, denouncing
the law that tore me from him, and declaring he
would find out the man who had forwarded the letter
that disclosed the place of my captivity, if there was
any virtue or power in money, and would take his
life. He thought of nothing but his loss, and cursed
me for having been born free. He could have stood
unmoved and seen the tongues of his poor slaves
torn out by the roots — he could have seen them
burned to ashes over a slow lire, or gnawed to death
by dogs, if it only brought him profit. Such a hard,
cruel, unjust man is Edwin Epps.
There was but one greater savage on Bayou Bceuf
than he. Jim Burns' plantation was cultivated, as
already mentioned, exclusively by women. That
barbarian kept their backs so sore and raw, that they
could not perform the customary labor demanded
daily of the slave. He boasted of his cruelty, and
through all the country round was accounted a more
thorough-going, energetic man than even Epps. A
brute himself, Jim Burns had not a particle of mercy
for his subject brutes, and like a fool, whipped and
scourged away the very strength upon which depend-
ed his amount of gain.
Epps remained on Huff Power two years, when,
having accumulated a considerable sum of money, he
expended it in the purchase of the plantation on the
east bank of Bayou Boeuf, where he still continues to
reside. He took possession of it in 1845, after the
UNCLE ABEAM, WILEY, &C. 185
holidays were passed. He carried thither with him
nine slaves, all of whom, except myself, and Susan,
who has since died, remain there yet. He made no
addition to this force, and for eight years the follow-
ing were my companions in his quarters, viz : Abram,
"Wiley, Phebe, Bob, Henry, Edward, and Patsey.
All these, except Edward, born since, were purchased
out of a drove by Epps during the time he was over-
seer for Archy B. Williams, whose plantation is situa-
ted on the shore of Red River, not far from Alexan-
Abram was tall, standing a full head above any
common man. He is sixty years of age, and was
born in Tennessee. Twenty years ago, he was pur-
chased by a trader, carried into South Carolina, and
sold to James Buford, of Willi arnsburgh county, in
that State. In his youth he was renowned for his
great strength, but age and unremitting toil have
somewhat shattered his powerful frame and enfeebled
his mental faculties.
Wiley is forty-eight. He was born on the estate
of William Tassle, and for many years took charge of *
that gentleman's ferry over the Big Black Kiver, in
Phebe was a slave of Buford, Tassle's neighbor,
and having married Wiley, he bought the latter, at
her instigation. Buford was a kind master, sheriff of
the county, and in those days a man of wealth.
Bob and Henry are Phebe's children, by a former t
husband, their father having been abandoned to give
186 TWELVE TEAKS A SLAVE.
place to Wiley. That seductive youth had insinuated
himself into Phebe's affections, and therefore the
faithless spouse had gently kicked her first husband
out of her cabin door. Edward had been born to
them on Bayou Huff Power.
Patsey is twenty-three — also from Buford's planta-
tion. She is in no wise connected with the others,
but glories in the fact that she is the offspring of a
" Guinea nigger," brought over to Cuba in a slave
ship, and in the course of trade transferred to Buford,
who was her mother's owner.
This, as I learned from them, is a genealogical account
of my master's slaves. For years they had been to-
gether. Often they recalled the memories of other
days, and sighed to retrace their steps to the old home
in Carolina. Troubles came upon their master Bu-
ford, which brought far greater troubles upon them.
He became involved in debt, and unable to bear up
against his failing fortunes, was compelled to sell these,
and others of his slaves. In a chain gang they had
been driven from beyond the Mississippi to the plan-
tation of Archy B. Williams. Edwin Epps, who, for a
long while had been his driver and overseer, was
about establishing himself in business on his own ac-
count, at the time of their arrival, and accepted them
in payment of his wages.
Old Ab ram was a kind-hearted being — a sort of
patriarch among us, fond of entertaining his younger
brethren with grave and serious discourse. He was
deeply versed in such philosophy as is taught in the
UNCLE ABEAM AND ATJNT PHEBE. 187
cabin of the slave ; but the great absorbing hobby of
Uncle Abram was General Jackson, whom his young
master in Tennessee had followed to the wars. He
loved to wander back, in imagination, to the place
where he was born, and to recount the scenes of his
youth during those stirring times when the nation was
in arms. He had been athletic, and more keen and
powerful than the generality of his race, but now his
eye had become dim, and his natural force abated.
Very ofteiij indeed, while discussing the best method
of baking the hoe-cake, or expatiating at large upon
the glory of Jackson, he would forget where he left
his hat, or his hoe, or his basket ; and then would the
old man be laughed at, if Epps was absent, and whip-
ped if he was present. So was he perplexed continu-
ally, and sighed to think that he was growing aged
and going to decay. Philosophy and Jackson and
forgetfulness had played the mischief with him, and
it was evident that all of them combined were fast
bringing down the gray hairs of Uncle Abram to the
Aunt Phebe had been an excellent field hand, but
latterly was put into the kitchen, where she remained,
except occasionally, in a time of uncommon hurry.
She was a sly old creature, and when not in the
presence of her mistress or her master, was garrulous
in the extreme.
Wiley, on the contrary, was silent. He performed
his task without murmur or complaint, seldom in-
dulging in the luxury of speech, except to utter a
188 TWELVE TEAKS A SLAVE.
wish, tliat lie was away from Epps, and back once
more in South Carolina.
Boh and Henry had reached the ages of twenty
and twenty-three, and were distinguished for nothing
extraordinary or unusual, while Edward, a lad of
thirteen, not yet able to maintain his row in the corn
or the cotton field, was kept in the great house, to
wait on the little Eppses.
Patsey was slim and straight. She stood erect as
the human form is capable of standing. There was
an air of loftiness in her movement, that neither labor,
nor weariness, nor punishment could destroy. Truly,
Patsey was a splendid animal, and were it not that
bondage had enshrouded her intellect in utter and
everlasting darkness, would have been chief among
ten thousand of her people. She could leap the
highest fences, and a fleet hound it was indeed, that
could outstrip her in a race. No horse could fling her
from his back. She was a skillful teamster. She
turned as true a furrow as the best, and at splitting
rails there were none who could excel her. When
the order to halt was heard at night, she would have
her mules at the crib, unharnessed, fed and curried,
before uncle Abram had found his hat. Not, how-
ever, for all or any of these, was she chiefly famous.
Such lightning-like motion was in her fingers as no
other fingers ever possessed, and therefore it was, that
in cotton picking time, Patsey was queen of the field.
She had a -genial and pleasant temper, and was
faithful and obedient. Naturally, she was a joyous
TREATMENT OF PATSET. 189
creature, a laughing, light-hearted girl, rejoicing in
the mere sense of existence. Yet Patsey wept oftener,
and suffered more, than any of her companions.
She had heen literally excoriated. Her back bore
the scars of a thousand stripes; not because she was
backward in her work, nor because she was of an un-
mindful and rebellious spirit, but because it had fallen
to her lot to be the slave of a licentious master and a
jealous mistress. She shrank before the lustful eye of
the one, and was in danger even of her life at the
hands of the other, and between the two, she was
indeed accursed. In the great house, for days together,
there were high and angry words, poutings and
estrangement, whereof she was the innocent cause.
Nothing delighted the mistress so much as to see her
suffer, and more than once, when Epps had refused to
sell her, has she tempted me with bribes to put her
secretly to death, and bury her body in some lonely
place in the margin of the swamp. Gladly would
Patsey have appeased this unforgiving spirit, if it had
been in her power, but not like Joseph, dared sho
escape from Master Epps, leaving her garment in his
hand. Patsey walked under a cloud. If she- uttered
a word in opposition to her master's will, the lash was
resorted to at once, to bring her to subjection ; if she
was not watchful when about her cabin, or when
walking in the yard, a billet of wood, or a broken
bottle perhaps, hurled from her mistress' hand, would
smite her unexpectedly in the face. The enslaved vic-
tim of lust and hate, Patsey had no comfort of her life.
190 TWELVE YEAES A SLAVE.
These were my companions and fellow-slaves, with
whom I was accustomed to be driven to the field, and
with whom it has been my lot to dwell for ten years
in the log cabins of Edwin Epps. They, if living, are
yet toiling on the banks of Bayou Boeuf, never des-
tined to breathe, as I now do, the blessed air of liberty,
nor to shake oif the heavy shackles that enthrall
them, until they shall lie down forever in the dust.
DESTRUCTION OF THE COTTON CROP IN 1845 DEMAND FOR LABORERS IN
ST. MART'S PARISH SENT THITHER IN A DROVE THE ORDER OF THE
MARCH THE GRAND COTEAU HIRED TO JUDGE TURNER ON BAYOU
SALLE APPOINTED DRIVER IN HIS SUGAR HOUSE SUNDAY SERVICES
SLAVE FURNITURE, HOW OBTAINED THE PARTY AT YARNEY's IN CEN-
TREVILLE GOOD FORTUNE THE CAPTAIN OF THE STEAMER HIS RE-
FUSAL TO SECRETE ME RETURN TO BAYOU BOJUF SIGHT OF TIBEATS
PATSEY'S SORROWS TUMULT AND CONTENTION HUNTING THE COON
AND OPOSSUM THE CUNNING OF THE LATTER THE LEAN CONDITION
OF THE SLAVE DESCRIPTION OF THE FISH TRAP THE MURDER OF THE
MAN FROM NATCHEZ EPPS CHALLENGED BY MARSHALL THE INFLUENCE
OF SLAVERY THE LOVE OF FREEDOM.
The first year of Epps' residence on the bayou,
1845, the caterpillars almost totally destroyed the
cotton crop throughout that region. There was little
to be done, so that the slaves were necessarily idle
half the time. However, there came a rumor to Ba-
you Bceuf that wages were high, and laborers in great
demand on the sugar plantations in St. Mary's parish.
This parish is situated on the coast of the Gulf of
Mexico, about one hundred and forty miles from
Avoyelles. The Eio Teche, a considerable stream,
flows through St. Mary's to the gulf.
192 TWELVE TEAKS A SLAVE.
It was determined by the planters, on the receipt
of this intelligence, to make up a drove of slaves to
"be sent down to Tuckapaw in St. Mary's, for the pur-
pose of hiring them out in the cane fields. Accord-
ingly, in the month of September, there were one
hundred and forty-seven collected at Holmesville,
Abram, Bob and myself among the number. Of these
about one-half were women. Epps, Alonson Pierce,
Henry Toler, and Addison Roberts, were the white
men, selected to accompany, and take charge of the
drove. They had a two-horse carriage and two sad-
dle horses for their use. A large wagon, drawn by
four horses, and driven by John, a boy belonging to
Mr. Roberts, carried the blankets and provisions.
About 2 o'clock in the afternoon, having been fed,
preparations were made to depart. The duty assign-
ed me was, to take charge of the blankets and pro-
visions, and see that none were lost by the way. The
carriage proceeded in advance, the wagon following ;
behind this the slaves were arranged, while the two,
horsemen brought up the rear, and in this order the
procession moved out of Holmesville.
That night we reached a Mr. McCrow's plantation,
a distance of ten or fifteen miles, when we were or-
dered to halt. Large fires were built, and each one
spreading his blanket on the ground, laid down upon
it. The white men lodged in the great house. An
hour before day we were aroused by the drivers com-
ing among us, cracking their whips and ordering us
to arise. Then the blankets were rolled up, and be-
' MARCH TO ST. MARY'S PARISH. 193
ing severally delivered to me and deposited in tho
wagon, the procession set forth again.
The following night it rained violently. We were
all drenched, our clothes saturated with mud and wa-
ter. Reaching an open shed, formerly a gin-house) we
found beneath it such shelter as it afforded. There
was not room for all of us to lay down. There. We
remained, huddled together, through the night, con-
tinuing our march, as usual, in the morning. During
the journey we were fed twice a day, boiling our
bacon and baking our corn-cake at the fires in the
same manner as in our huts. We passed through La-
fayetteville, Mountsville, ISTew-Town, to Centreville,
where Bob and Uncle Abram were hired. Our num-
ber decreased as we advanced — nearly every sugar
plantation requiring the services of one or more.
On our route we passed the Grand Coteau or prairie,
a vast space of level, monotonous country, without a
tree, except an occasional one which had been trans-
planted near some dilapidated dwelling. It was once
thickly populated, and under cultivation, but for some
cause had been abandoned. The business of the
scattered inhabitants that now dwell upon it is prin-
cipally raising cattle. Immense herds were feeding
upon it as we passed. In the centre of the Grand
Coteau one feels as if he were on the ocean, out
of sight of land. As far as the eye can see, in all
directions, it is but a ruined and deserted waste.
I was hired to Judge Turner, a distinguished man,
and extensive planter, whose large esta^
194 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
on Bayou Salle, within a few miles of the gulf. Bay
on Salle is a small stream flowing into the hay of
Atchafalaya. For some days I was employed at
Turner's in repairing his sugar house, when a cane
knife was put into my hand, and with thirty or
forty others, I was sent into the field. I found no
such difficulty in learning the art of cutting cane
that I had in picking cotton. It came to me natural-
ly and intuitively, and in a short time I was able to
keep up with the fastest knife. Before the cutting
was over, however, Judge Tanner transferred me from
the field to the sugar house, to act there in the ca-
pacity of driver. From the time of the commence-
ment of sugar making to the close, the grinding and
boiling does not cease day or night. The whip was
given me with directions to use it upon any one who
was caught standing idle. If I failed to obey them
to the letter, there was another one for my own back.
In addition to this my duty was to call on and off the
different gangs at the proper time. I had no regular
periods of rest, and could never snatch but a few mo-
ments of sleep at a time.
It is the custom in Louisiana, as I presume it is in
other slave States, to allow the slave to retain what-
•ever compensation he may obtain for services per-
formed on Sundays. In this way, only, are they able
to provide themselves with any luxury or conveni-
ence whatever. When a slave, purchased, or kidnap-
ped in the North, is transported to a cabin on Bayou
23 -- "f be is furnished with neither knife, nor fork,
SUNDAY SERVICES. 195
nor dish, nor kettle, nor any other thing in the shape
of crockery, or furniture of any nature or description.
He is furnished with a blanket before he reaches
there, and wrapping that around him, he can either
stand up, or lie down upon the ground, or on aboard,
if his master has no nse for it. He is at liberty to
find a gonrd in which to keep his meal, or he can eat
his corn from the cob, just as he pleases. To ask the
master for a knife, or skillet, or any small convenience
of the kind, would be answered with a kick, or laugh-
ed at as a joke. Whatever necessary article of this
nature is found in a cabin has been purchased with
Sunday money. However injurious to the morals,
it is certainly a blessing to the physical condition of
the slave, to be permitted to break the Sabbath.
Otherwise there would be no way to provide him-
self with any utensils, which seem to be indispensa-
ble to him who is compelled to be his own cook.
On cane plantations in sugar time, there is no dis-
tinction as to the days of the week. It is well un-
derstood that all hands must labor on the Sabbath,
and it is equally well understood that those especial-
ly who are hired, as I was to Judge Turner, and oth-
ers in succeeding years, shall receive remuneration
for it. It is usual, also, in the most hurrying time of
cotton-picking, to require the same extra service.
From this source, slaves generally are afforded an
opportunity of earning sufficient to purchase a knife,
a kettle, tobacco and so forth. The females, discard-
ing the latter luxury, are apt to expend their little
196 TWELTE TEARS A SLAVE.
revenue in the purchase of gaudy ribbons, wherewithal
to deck their hair in the merry season of the holidays.
I remained in St. Mary's until the first of January,
during which time my Sunday money amounted to
ten dollars. I met with other good fortune, for which
I was indebted to my violin, my constant companion,
the source of profit, and soother of my sorrows during
years of servitude. There was ' a grand party of
whites assembled at Mr. Yarney's, in Centreville, a
hamlet in the vicinity of Turner's plantation. I was
employed to play for them, and so well pleased were
the merry-makers with my performance, that a con-
tribution was taken for my benefit, which amounted
to seventeen dollars.
"With this sum in possession, I was looked upon by
my fellows as a millionaire. It afforded me great
pleasure to look at it — to count it over and over
again, day after day. Visions of cabin furniture, of
water pails, of pocket knives, new shoes and coats
and hats, floated through my fancy, and up through
all rose the triumphant contemplation, that I was
the wealthiest " nigger" on Bayou Bceuf.
Vessels run up the Bio Teche to Centreville.
"While there, I was bold enough one day to present
myself before the captain of a steamer, and beg per-
mission to hide myself among the freight. I was
emboldened to risk the hazard of such a step, from
overhearing a conversation, in the course of which I
ascertained he was a native of the I^orth. I did not
relate to him the particulars of my history, but only
RETURN TO BATOU BCEUF. 197
expressed an ardent desire to escape from slavery to
a free State. He pitied me, but said it would be im-
possible to avoid the vigilant custom house officers in
New-Orleans, and that detection would subject him
to punishment, and his vessel to confiscation. My
earnest entreaties evidently excited his sympathies, I
and doubtless he would have yielded to them, could
he have done so with any kind of safety. I was
compelled to smother the sudden flame that lighted
up my bosom with sweet hopes of liberation, and
turn my steps once more towards the increasing
darkness of despair.
Immediately after this event the drove assembled
at Centreville, and several of the owners having ar-
rived and collected the monies due for our services,
we were driven back to Bayou Bceuf. It was on our
return, while passing through a small village, that I
caught sight of Tib eats, seated in the door of a dirty
grocery, looking somewhat seedy and out of repair.
Passion and poor whisky, I doubt not, have ere this
laid him on the shelf.
During our absence, I learned from Aunt Phebe ^
and Patsey, that the latter had been getting deeper
and deeper into trouble. The poor girl was truly an
object of pity. " Old Hogjaw," the name by which
Epps was called, when the slaves were by themselves,
had beaten her more severely and frequently than
ever. As surely as he came from Holmesville, elated
with liquor — and it was often in those days — he
would whip her, merely to gratify the mistress ; would
198 TWELVE TEAKS A SLAVE.
punish her to an extent almost beyond endurance, for
an offence of which he himself was the sole and irre-
sistible cause. In his sober moments he could not al-
ways be prevailed upon to indulge his wife's insatia-
ble thirst for vengeance.
To be rid of Patsey — to place her beyond sight or
reach, by sale, or death, or in any other manner, of
late years, seemed to be the ruling thought and pas-
sion of my mistress. Patsey had been a favorite when
a child, even in the great house. She had been pet-
ted and admired for her uncommon sprightliness and
pleasant disposition. She had been fed many a time,
so Uncle Abram said, even on biscuit and milk, when
the madam, in her younger days,- was wont to call
her to the piazza, and fondle her as she would a play-
ful Idtten. But a sad change had come over the spirit
of the woman. ISTow, only black and angry fiends
ministered in the temple of her heart, until she could
look on Patsey but with concentrated venom.
Mistress Epps was not naturally such an evil wo-
man, after all. She was possessed of the devil, jeal-
ousy, it is true, but aside from that, there was much
in her character to admire. Her father, Mr. Roberts,
resided in Cheneyville, an influential and honorable
man, and as much respected throughout the parish
as any other citizen. She had been well educated at
some institution this side the Mississippi ; was beauti-
ful, accomplished, and usually good-humored. She
was kind to all of us but Patsey — frequently, in the
absence of her husband, sending out to us some little
patsey's sokkows. 199
dainty from her own table. In other situations — in
a different society from that which exists on the shores
of Bayou Boeuf, she would have been pronounced an
elegant and fascinating woman. An ill wind it was
that blew her into the arms of Epps.
He respected and loved his wife as much as a coarse
nature like his is capable of loving, but supreme sel-
fishness always overmastered conjugal affection.
"He loved as well as baser natures can,
But a mean heart and soul were in that man."
He was ready to gratify any whim — to grant any re-
quest she made, provided it did not cost too much.
Patsey was equal to any two of his slaves in the cot-
ton field. He could not replace her with the same
money she would bring. The idea of disposing of
her, therefore, could not be entertained. The mistress
did not regard her at all in that light. The pride of
the haughty woman was aroused ; the blood of the
fiery southern boiled at the sight of Patsey, and noth-
ing less than trampling out the life of the helpless
bondwoman would satisfy her.
Sometimes the current of her wrath turned upon
him whom she had jus.t cause to hate. But the storm
of angry words would pass over at length, and there
would be a season of calm again. At such times Pat-
sey trembled with fear, and cried as if her heart would
break, for she knew from painful experience, that if
mistress should work herself to the red-hot pitch of
rage, Epps would quiet her at last with a promise that
Patsey should be flogged — a promise he was sure to
200 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
keep. Thus did pride, and jealousy, and vengeance
war with avarice and brute-passion in the mansion of
my master, filling it with daily tumult and conten-
tion. Thus, upon the head of Patsey — the simple-
minded slave, in whose heart God had implanted the
seeds of virtue — the force of all these domestic tem-
pests spent itself at last.
During the summer succeeding my return from St.
Mary's parish, I conceived a plan of providing myself
with food, which, though simple, succeeded "beyond
expectation. It has been followed by many others
in my condition, up and down the bayou, and of such
benefit has it become that I am almost persuaded to
look upon myself as a benefactor. That summer the
worms got into the bacon. JSTothing but ravenous
hunger could induce us to swallow it. The weekly
allowance of meal scarcely sufficed to satisfy us. It
was customary with us, as it is with all in that region,
where the allowance is exhausted before Saturday
night, or is in such a state as to render it nauseous
and disgusting, to hunt in the swamps for coon and
opossum. This, however, must be done at night, af-
ter the day's work is accomplished. There are plan-
ters whose slaves, for months at a time, have no other
meat than such as is obtained in this manner. ]S"o
objections are made to hunting, inasmuch as it dis-
penses with drafts upon the smoke-house, and because
•every marauding coon that is killed is so much saved
from the standing corn. They are hunted with dogs
and clubs, slaves not being allowed the use of fire-arms.
HUNTING THE COON AND OPOSSUM. 201
The flesh of the coon is palatable, but verily there
is nothing in all butcherdom so delicious as a roasted
'possum. They are a round, rather long-bodied, little*
animal, of a whitish color, with nose like a pig, and
caudal extremity like a rat. They burrow among
the roots and in the hollows of the gum tree, and are
clumsy and slow of motion. They are deceitful and
cunning creatures. On receiving the slightest tap of
a stick, they will roll over on the ground and feign
death. If the hunter leaves him, in pursuit of anoth-
er, without first taking particular pains to break his
neck, the chances are, on his return, he is not to be
found. The little animal has out witted the enemy
■ — has " played 'possum" — and is off. But after a
long and hard day's work, the weary slave feels little
like going to the swamp for his supper, and half the
time prefers throwing himself on the cabin floor with-
out it. It is for the interest of the master that the ser-
vant should not suffer in health from starvation, and
it is also for his interest that he should not become gross
from over-feeding. In the estimation of the owner, a
slave is the most serviceable when in rather a lean
and lank condition, such a condition as the race-horse
is in, when fitted for the course, and in that condition
they are generally to be found on the sugar and cot-
ton plantations along Red River.
My cabin was within a few rods of the bayou bank,
and necessity being indeed the mother of invention, I
resolved upon a mode of obtaining the requisite
amount of food, without the trouble of resorting night-
202 TWELVE TEARS A SLAVE
ly to the woods. This was to construct a fish trap.
Having, in niy mind, conceived the manner in which
it could be done, the next Sunday I set about putting
it into practical execution. It may be impossible for
me to convey to the reader a full and correct idea of
its construction, but the following will serve as a gen-
eral description :
A frame between two and three feet square is made,
and of a greater or less height, according to the
depth of water. Boards or slats are nailed on three
sides of this frame, not so closely, however, as to pre-
vent the water circulating freely through it. A door
is fitted into the fourth side, in such manner that it
will slide easily up and down in the grooves cut in
the two posts. A movable bottom is then so fitted
that it can be raised to the top of the frame without
difficulty. In the centre of the movable bottom an
auger hole is bored, and into this one end of a handle
or round stick is fastened on the under side so loosely
that it will turn. The handle ascends from the centre
of the movable bottom to the top of the frame, or as
much higher as is desirable. Up and down this
handle, in a great many places, are gimlet holes,
through which small sticks are inserted, extending to
opposite sides of the frame. So many of these small
sticks are running out from the handle in all direc-
tions, that a fish of any considerable dimensions can-
not pass through without hitting one of them. The
frame is then placed in the water and made sta-
DESCRIPTION OF THE FISH TEAP. 203
The trap is " set" by sliding or drawing up the door,
and kept in that position by another stick, one end
of which rests in a notch on the inner side, the other
end in a notch made in the handle, running up from
the centre of the movable bottom. The trap is
baited by rolling a handful of wet meal and cotton
together until it becomes hard, and depositing it in
the back part of the frame. A fish swimming through
the upraised door towards the bait, necessarily strikes
one of the small sticks turning the handle, which dis
placing the stick supporting the door, the latter falls,
securing the fish within the frame. Taking hold of
the top of the handle, the movable bottom is then
drawn up to the surface of the water, and the fish
taken out. There may have been other such traps in
use before mine was constructed, but if there were
I had never happened to see one. Bayou Bceuf
abounds in fish of large size and excellent quality,
and after this time I was very rarely in want of one
for myself, or for my comrades. Thus a mine was
opened — a new resource was developed, hitherto un-
thought of by the enslaved children of Africa, who
toil and hunger along the shores of that sluggish, but
About the time of which I am now writing, an
event occurred in our immediate neighborhood, which
made a deep impression upon me, and which shows
the state of society existing there, and the manner in
which affronts are oftentimes avenged. Directly op-
posite our quarters, on the other side of the bayou,
2<Q£ TWELVE YEAES A SLAVE.
was situated the plantation of Mr. Marshall. He
"belonged to a family among the most wealthy and
aristocratic in the country. A gentleman from the
vicinity of Natchez had been negotiating with him
for the purchase of the estate. One day a messenger
came in great haste to our plantation, saying that a
bloody and fearful battle was going on at Mar-
shall's — that blood had been spilled — and unless
the combatants were forthwith separated, the result
would be disastrous.
On repairing to Marshall's house, a scene presented
itself that beggars description. On the floor of one
of the rooms lay the ghastly corpse of the man from
Natchez, while Marshall, enraged and covered with
wounds and blood, was stalking back and forth,
" breathing out threatenings and slaughter." A diffi-
culty had arisen in the course of their negotiation,
high words ensued, when drawing their weapons, the
deadly strife began that ended so unfortunately.
Marshall was never placed in confinement. A sort of
trial or investigation was had at Marksville, when he
was acquitted, and returned to his plantation, rather
more respected, as I thought, than ever, from the fact
that the blood of a fellow being was on his soul.
Epps interested himself in his behalf, accompany-
ing him to Marksville, and on all occasions loudly
justifying him, but his services in this respect did not
afterwards deter a kinsman of this same Marshall
from seeking his life also. A brawl occurred between
them over a gambling-table, which terminated in a
EPPS CHALLENGED. 205
deadly feud. Riding up on horseback in front of the
house one day, armed with pistols and bowie knife,
Marshall challenged him to come forth and make a
final settlement of the quarrel, or he would brand
him as a coward, and shoot him like a dog the first
opportunity. ISTot through cowardice, nor from any
conscientious scruples, in my opinion, but through the
influence of his wife, he was restrained from accept-
ing the challenge of his enemy. A reconciliation,
however, was effected afterward, since which time
they have been on terms of the closest intimacy.
Such occurrences, which would bring upon the
parties concerned in them merited and condign pun-
ishment in the Northern States, are frequent on the
bayou, and pass without notice, and almost without
comment. Every man carries his bowie knife, and
when two fall out, they set to work hacking and
thrusting at each other, more like savages than civ-
ilized and enlightened beings.
The existence of Slavery in its most cruel form
among them, has a tendency to brutalize the humane
and finer feelings of their nature. Daily witnesses of
human suffering — listening to the agonizing screeches
of the slave — beholding him writhing beneath the
merciless lash — bitten and torn by dogs — dying
without attention, and buried without shroud or
coffin — it cannot otherwise be expected, than that
they should become brutified and reckless of human
life. It is true there are many kind-hearted and good
men in the parish of Avoyelles — such men as "Wil-
206 TWELVE TEAKS A SLAVE.
liam Ford — who can look with pity upon the suffer-
ings of a slave, just as there are, over all the world,
sensitive and sympathetic spirits, who cannot look
with indifference upon the sufferings of any creature
which the Almighty has endowed with life. It is
not the fault of the slaveholder that he is cruel, so
much as it is the fault of the system under which he
lives. He cannot withstand the influence of habit
and associations that surround him. Taught from
earliest childhood, by all that he sees and hears, that
the rod is for the slave's back, he will not be apt to
change his opinions in maturer years.
There may be humane masters, as there certainly
are inhuman ones — there may be slaves well-clothed,
well-fed, and happy, as there surely are those half-
clad, half-starved and miserable ; nevertheless, the
institution that tolerates such wrong and inhumanity
as I have witnessed, is a cruel, unjust, and barbarous
one. Men may write fictions portraying lowly life as
it is, or as it is not — may expatiate with owlish
gravity upon the bliss of ignorance — discourse flip-
pantly from arm chairs of the pleasures of slave life ;
but let them toil with him in the field — sleep with
him in the cabin — feed with him on husks ; let them '
behold him scourged, hunted, trampled on, and they
will come back with another story in their mouths.
Let them know the heart of the poor slave — learn
his secret thoughts — thoughts he dare not utter in
the hearing of the white man ; let them sit by him
in the silent watches of the night — converse with
THE LOVE OF FREEDOM. 207
him in trustful confidence, of " life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness," and they will find that ninety-
nine out of every hundred are intelligent enough to
understand their situation, and to cherish in their
bosoms the love of freedom, as passionately as them-
labors on sugar plantations — the mode of planting cane of hoeing
cane cane ricks cutting cane description of the cane knife
"wlnrowing preparing for succeeding crops description of
hawkins' sugar mill on bayou bosuf — the Christmas holidays —
the carnival season of the children of bondage the christmas
supper red, the favorite color the violin, and the consolation
it afforded the christmas dance lively, the coquette — -sam
roberts, and his rivals slave songs southern liee as it is
THREE DAYS LN THE YEAR THE SYSTEM OF MARRIAGE UNCLE ABRAm's
CONTEMPT OF MATRIMONY.
In consequence of my inability in cotton-picking,
Epps was in the habit of hiring me out on sugar
plantations during the season of cane-cutting and
sugar-making. He received for my services a dollar
a day, with the money supplying my place on his
cotton plantation. Cutting cane was an employment
that suited me, and for three successive years I held
the lead row at Hawkins', leading a gang of from
fifty to an hundred hands.
In a previous chapter the mode of cultivating cot-
ton is described. This may be the proper place to
speak of the manner of cultivating cane.
The ground is prepared in beds, the same as it is
prepared for the reception of the cotton seed, except
MODE OF PLANTING CANE. 209
it is ploughed deeper. Drills are made in the same*
manner. Planting commences in January, and con-
tinues until April. It is necessary to plant a sugar
field only once in three years. Three crops are taken
before the seed or plant is exhausted.
Three gangs are employed in the operation. One
draws the cane from the rick, or stack, cutting the
top and flags from the stalk, leaving only that part
which is sound and healthy. Each joint of the cane
has an eye, like the eye of a potato, which sends forth
a sprout when buried in the soil. Another gang lays
the cane in the drill, placing two stalks side by side
in such manner that joints will occur once in four or
six inches. The third gang follows with hoes, drawing
earth upon the stalks, and covering them to the depth
of three inches.
In four weeks, at the farthest, the sprouts appear
above the ground, and from this time forward grow
with great rapidity. A sugar field is hoed three
times, the same as cotton, save that a greater quantity
of earth is drawn to the roots. By the first of Au-
gust hoeing is usually over. About the middle of
September, whatever is required for seed is cut and
stacked in ricks, as they are termed. In October it
is ready for the mill or sugar-house, and then the gen-
eral cutting begins. The blade of a cane-knife is fif-
teen inches long, three inches wide in the middle, and
tapering towards the point and handle. The blade
is thin, and in order to%be at all serviceable must be
kept very sharp. Every third hand takes the lead of
210 TWELVE YEAES A SLAVE.
two others, one of whom is on each side of him. The
lead hand, in the first place, with a blow of his knife
shears the flags from the stalk. He next cuts off the
top down as far as it is green. He must be careful
to sever all the green from the ripe part, inasmuch
as the juice of the former sours the molasses, and ren-
ders it unsalable. Then he severs the stalk at the
root, and lays it directly behind him. His right and
left hand companions lay their stalks, when cut in the
same manner, upon his. To every three hands there
is a cart, which follows, and the stalks are thrown into
it by the younger slaves, when it is drawn to the su-
gar-house and ground.
If the planter apprehends a frost, the cane is win-
rowed. "Winrowing is the cutting the stalks at an
early period and throwing them lengthwise in the wa-
ter furrow in such a manner that the tops will cover
the butts of the stalks. They will remain in this con-
dition three weeks or a month without souring, and
secure from frost. When the proper time arrives,
they are taken up, trimmed and carted to the sugar-
In the month of January the slaves enter the field
again to prepare for another crop. The ground is
now strewn with the tops, and flags cut from the past
year's cane. On a dry day fire is set to this combus-
tible refuse, which sweeps over the field, leaving it
bare and clean, and ready for the hoes. The earth is
loosened about the roots of the old stubble, and in
process of time another crop springs up from the last
hawkins' sugak mill. 211
year's seed. It is the same the year following ; but
the third year the seed has exhausted its strength,
and the field must be ploughed and planted again.
The second year the cane is sweeter and yields more
than the first, and the third year more than the second.
During the three seasons I labored on Hawkins'
plantation, I was employed a considerable portion of
the time in the sugar-house. He is celebrated as the
producer of the finest variety of white sugar. The
following is a general description of his sugar-house
and the process of manufacture :
The mill is an immense brick building, standing on
the shore of the bayou. Running out from the build-
ing is an open shed, at least an hundred feet in length
and forty or fifty feet in width. The boiler in which
the steam is generated is situated outside the main
building ; the machinery and engine rest on a brick
pier, fifteen feet above the floor, within the body of the
building. The machinery turns two great iron rollers,
between two and three feet in diameter and six or
eight feet in length. They are elevated above the
brick pier, and roll in towards each other. An end-
less carrier, made of chain and wood, like leathern
belts used in small mills, extends from the iron rollers
out of the main building and through the entire
length of the open shed. The carts in which the cane
is brought from the field as fast as it is cut, are un-
loaded at the sides of the shed. All along the endless
carrier are ranged slave children, whose business it is
to place the cane upon it, when it is conveyed through
212 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
the shed into the main building, where it falls be-
tween the rollers, is crushed, and drops upon another
carrier that conveys it out of the main building in an
opposite direction, depositing it in the top of a chim-
ney upon a fire beneath, which consumes it. It is ne-
cessary to burn it in this manner, because otherwise
it would soon fill the building, and more especially
because it would soon sour and engender disease.
The juice of the cane falls into a conductor underneath
the iron rollers, and is carried into a reservoir. Pipes
convey it from thence into five filterers, holding sev-
eral hogsheads each. These filterers are filled with
bone-black, a substance resembling pulverized char-
coal. It is made of bones calcinated in close vessels,
and is used for the purpose of decolorizing, by filtra-
tion, the cane juice before boiling. Through these
five filterers it passes in succession, and then runs into
a large reservoir underneath the ground floor, from
whence it is carried up, by means of a steam pump,
into a clarifier made of sheet iron, where it is heated
by steam until it boils. From the first clarifier it is
carried in pipes to a second and a third, and thence
into close iron pans, through which tubes pass, filled
with steam. While in a boiling state it flows through
three pans in succession, and is then carried in other
pipes down to the coolers on the ground floor. Cool-
ers are wooden boxes with sieve bottoms made of the
finest wire. As soon as the syrup passes into the
coolers, and is met by the air, it grains, and the mo-
lasses at once escapes through the sieves into a cistern
CHRISTMAS HOLIDAYS. 213
"below. It is then white or loaf sugar of the finest
kind — clear, clean, and as white as snow. "When
cool, it is taken out, packed in hogsheads, and is ready
for market. The molasses is then carried from the
cistern into the upper story again, and by another
process converted into brown sugar.
There are larger mills, and those constructed differ-
ently from the one thus imperfectly described, but
none, perhaps, more celebrated than this anywhere
on Bayou Bceuf. Lambert, of New-Orleans, is a part-
ner of Hawkins. He is a man of vast wealth, hold-
ing, as I have been told, an interest in over forty dif-
ferent sugar plantations in Louisiana.
_ The only respite from constant labor the slave has •
through the whole year, is during the Christmas holi-
days. Epps allowed us three — others allow four,
five and sis days, according to the measure of their
generosity. It is the only time to which they look
forward with any interest or pleasure. _. They are glad
when night comes, not only because it brings them a
few hours repose, but because it brings them one day
nearer Christmas. It is hailed with eqnal delight by
the old and the young ; even Uncle Abram ceases to
glorify Andrew Jackson, and Patsey forgets her many
sorrows, amid the general hilarity of the holidays. It
is the time of feasting, and frolicking, and fiddling — ■
the carnival season with the children of bondage.
They are the only days when they are allowed a little
restricted liberty, and heartily indeed do they enjoy it.
214 TWELVE TEAKS A SLAVE.
It is the custom for one planter to give a " Christ-
mas supper," inviting the slaves from neighboring
plantations to join his own on the occasion; for in-
stance, one year it is given by Epps, the next by Mar-
shall, the next by Hawkins, and so on. Usually from
three to five hundred are assembled, coming togethei
on foot, in carts, on horseback, on mules, riding double
and triple, sometimes a boy and girl, at others a girl
and two boys, and at others again a boy, a girl and
am old woman. Uncle Abram astride a mule, with
AuntPhebe and Patsey behind him, trotting towards
a Christmas supper, would be no uncommon sight on
Then, too, " of all days i' the year," they array
themselves in their best attire. The cotton coat has
been washed clean, the stump of a tallow candle has
been applied to the shoes, and if so fortunate as to pos-
sess a rimless or a crownless hat, it is placed jauntily
on the head. They are welcomed with equal cordial-
ity, however, if they come bare-headed and bare-
footed to the feast. As a general thing, the women
wear handkerchiefs tied about their heads, but if
chance has thrown in their way a fiery red ribbon,
or a cast-off bonnet of their mistress' grandmother, it
is sure to be worn on such occasions. Red — the deep
blood red — as decidedly the favorite color among the
enslaved damsels of my acquaintance. If a red rib-
bon does not encircle the neck, you will be certain to
find all the hair of their woolly heads tied up with red
strings of one sort or another.
THE CHRISTMAS SUPPER. 215
The table is spread in the open air, and loaded with
varieties of meat and piles of vegetables. Bacon and
corn meal at such times are dispensed with. Some-
times the cooking is performed in the kitchen on the
plantation, at others in the shade of wide branching
trees. In the latter case, a ditch is dug in the ground,
and wood laid in and burned until it is filled with
glowing coals, over which chickens', ducks, turkeys,
pigs, and not unfrequently the entire body of a wild
ox, are roasted. They are furnished also with flour,
of which biscuits are made, and often with peach and
other preserves, with tarts, and every manner and de-
scription of pies, except the mince, that being an ar-
ticle of pastry as yet unknown among them. Only
the slave who has lived all the years on his scanty al-
lowance of meal and bacon, can appreciate such sup-
pers. "White people in great numbers assemble to
witness the gastronomical enjoyments.
They seat themselves at the rustic table — the males
on one side, the females on the other. The two be-
tween whom there may have been an exchange of
tenderness, invariably manage to sit opposite ; for the
omnipresent Cupid disdains not to hurl his arrows into
the simple hearts of slaves./ Unalloyed and exulting
happiness lights up the dark faces of them all. 'The
ivory teeth, contrasting with their black complexions,
exhibit two long, white streaks the whole extent of
the table. All round the bountiful board a multitude
of eyes roll in ecstacy. Giggling and laughter and
the clattering of cutlery and crockery succeed. Cuf-
216 TWELVE YEAES A SLAVE.
fee's elbow hunches liis neighbor's side, impelled by
an involuntary impulse of delight ; Kelly shakes her
finger at Sambo and laughs, she knows not why, and
so the fun and merriment flows on.
"When the viands have disappeared, ^nd the hungry
maws of the children of toil are satisfied, then, next
in the order of amusement, is the Christmas dance.
My business on these gala days always was to play on
the violin. The African race is a music-loving one,
proverbially ; and many there were among my fellow-
bondsmen whose organs of tune were strikingly devel-
oped, and who could thumb the banjo with dexterity ;
but at the expense of appearing egotistical, I must,
nevertheless, declare, that I was considered the Ole
Bull of Bayou Bceuf. My master often received let-
ters, sometimes from a distance of ten miles, request-
ing him to send me to play at a ball or festival of the
whites. He received his compensation, and usually I
also returned with many picayunes jingling in my
pockets — the extra contributions of those to whose
delight I had administered. In this manner I became
more acquainted than I otherwise would, up and down
the bayou. The young men and maidens of Holmes-
ville always knew there was to be a jollification some-
where, whenever Piatt Epps was seen passing through
the town with his fiddle in his hand. " "Where are
you going now, Piatt ?" and " What is coming off to-
night, Piatt ?" would be interrogatories issuing from
every door and window, and many a time when there
was no special hurry, yielding to pressing importuni-
THE VIOLIN. 217
tics, Piatt would draw his bow, and sitting astride
his mule, perhaps, discourse musically to a crowd
of delighted children, gathered around him in the
Alas ! had it not been for my beloved violin, I scarce-
ly can conceive how I could have endured the long
years of bondage. It introduced me to great houses
— relieved me of many days' labor in the field — sup-
plied me with conveniences for my cabin — with
pipes and tobacco, and extra pairs of shoes, and often-
times led me away from the presence of a hard mas-
ter, to witness scenes of jollity and mirth. It was
my companion — the friend of my bosom — triumph-
ing loudly when I was joyful, and uttering its soft,
melodious consolations when I was sad. Often, at
midnight, when sleep had fled affrighted from the
cabin, and my soul was disturbed and troubled with
the contemplation of my fate, it would sing me a song
of peace. On holy Sabbath days, when an hour or
two of leisure was allowed, it would accompany me
to some quiet place on the bayou bank, and, lifting
up its voice, discourse kindly and pleasantly indeed.
It heralded my name round the country — made me
friends, who, otherwise would not have noticed me —
gave me an honored seat at the yearly feasts, and se-
cured the loudest and heartiest welcome of them all
at the Christmas dance. The Christinas dance ! Oh,
ye pleasure-seeking sons and daughters of idleness,
who move with measured step, listless and snail-like,
through the slow-winding cotillon, if ye wish to look
218 TWELVE YEARS A SLATE.
upon the celerity, if not the " poetry of motion" —
upon genuine happiness, rampant and unrestrained —
go down to Louisiana, and see the slaves dancing in
the starlight of a Christmas night.
On that particular Christmas I have now in my
mind, a description whereof will serve as a descrip-
tion of the day generally, Miss Lively and Mr. Sam,
the first belonging to Stewart, the latter to Roberts,
started the ball. It was well known that Sam cher-
ished an ardent passion for Lively, as also did one of
Marshall's and another of Carey's boys ; for Lively
was lively indeed, and a heart-breaking coquette with-
al. It was a victory for Sam Roberts, when, rising
from the repast, she gave him her hand for the f rat
" figu' e" in preference to either of his rivals. T'ley
were somewhat crest-fallen, and, shaking their h ,ads
angrily, rather intimated they would like to pitcl into
Mr. Sam and hurt him badly. But not an emotion
of wrath ruffled the placid bosom of Samuel, as his
legs flew like drum-sticks down the outside and up
the middle, by the side of his bewitching partner.
The whole company cheered them vociferously, and,
excited with the applause, they continued " tearing
down" after all the others had become exhausted and
halted a moment to recover breath. But Sam's su-
perhuman exertions overcame him finally, leaving
Lively alone, yet whirling like a top. Thereupon one
of Sam's rivals, Pete Marshall, dashed in, and, with
might and main, leaped and shuffled and threw him-
self into every conceivable shape, as if determined to
SOUTHERN LIFE AS IT 18. 219
show Miss Lively and all the world that Sam Roberts
was of no account.
Pete's affection, however, was greater than his dis-
cretion. Such violent exercise took the breath out of
him directly, and he dropped like an empty bag.
Then was the time for Harry Carey to try his hand ;
but Lively also soon out- winded him, amidst hurrahs
and shouts, fully sustaining her well-earned reputation
of being the " fastest gal" on the bayou.
One " set" off, another takes its place, he or she re-
maining longest on the floor receiving the most up-
roarious commendation, and so the dancing continues
until broad daylight. It does not cease with the
sound of the fiddle, but in that case they set up a mu-
sic peculiar to themselves. This is called " patting,"
accompanied with one of those unmeaning songs,
composed rather for its adaptation to a certain tune
or measure, than for the purpose of expressing any
distinct idea. The patting is performed by striking
the hands on the knees, then striking the hands to-
gether, then striking the right shoulder with one
hand, the left with the other — all the while keeping
time with the feet, and singing, perhaps, this song :
" Harper's creek and roarin' ribber,
Thar, my dear, we'll live forebber ;
Den we'll go to de Ingin nation,
All I want in dis creation,
Is pretty little wife and big plantation.
Chorus, Up dat oak and down dat ribber,
Two overseers and one little nigger "
220 TWELVE TEAKS A SLATE.
Or, if these words are not adapted to the tune called
for, it may be that " Old Hog Eye" is — a rather sol-
emn and startling specimen of versification, not, how-
ever, to be appreciated unless heard at the South. It
runneth as follows :
" Who's been here since I've been gone 1
Pretty little gal wid a josey on.
Hog Eye !
Old Hog Eye,
And Hosey too !
Never see de like since I was born,
Here come a little gal wid a josey on.
Hog Eye !
Old Hog Eye !
And Hosey too !"
Or, may be the following, perhaps, equally nonsen-
sical, but full of melody, nevertheless, as it flows
from the negro's mouth :
" Ebo Dick and Jurdan's Jo,
Them two niggers stole my yo'.
Chorus. Hop Jim along,
Walk Jim along,
Talk Jim along," &c.
Old black Dan, as black as tar,
He dam glad he was not dar.
Hop Jim along," &c.
During the remaining holidays succeeding Christ-
mas, they are provided with passes, and permitted to
go where they please within a limited distance, or
they may remain and labor on the plantation, in
THREE DAYS IN THE YEAS. 221
which case they are paid for it. It is very rarely,
however, that the latter alternative is accepted.
They may be seen at these times hurrying in all di-
rections, as happy looking mortals as can be found
on the face of the earth. They are different beings
from what they are in the field ; the temporary re-
laxation, the brief deliverance from fear, and from
the lash, producing an entire metamorphosis in their
appearance and demeanor. In visiting, riding, renew-
ing old friendships, or, perchance, reviving some old
attachment, or pursuing whatever pleasure may sug-
gest itself, the time is occupied. Such is " southern
life as it is," three days in the year, as I found it — ■
the other three hundred and sixty-two being days
of weariness, and fear, and suffering, and unremit-
(^Marriage is frequently contracted during the holi-
days, if such an institution may be said to exist
among them. The only ceremony required before
entering into that " holy estate," is to obtain the con-
sent of the respective owners. It is usually encour-
aged by the masters of female slaves. Either party
can have as many husbands or wives as the owner
will permit, and either is at liberty to discard the
other at pleasure. The law in relation to divorce, or
to bigamy, and so forth, is not applicable to property,
of course. If the wife does not belong on the same
plantation with the husband, the latter is permitted
to visit her on Saturday nights, if the distance is not
too far. Uncle Abram's wife lived seven miles from
222 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
Epps', on Bayou Huff Power. He had permission to
visit her once a fortnight, but he was growing old, as
has been said, and truth to say, had latterly well nigh
forgotten her. Uncle Abram had no time to spare
from his meditations on General Jackson — connubial
dalliance being well enough for the young and
thoughtless, but unbecoming a grave and solemn phi-
losopher like himself.
OVERSEERS HOW THEY ARE ARMED AND ACCOMPANIED THE HOMICIDE —
HIS EXECUTION AT MARKS VILLE SLAVE-DRIVERS APPOINTED DRIVER
ON REMOVING TO BAYOU BCEUF PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT EPPS' AT-
TEMPT TO CUT PLAIT'S THROAT THE ESCAPB FROM HTM PROTECTED
BY THE MISTRESS FORBIDS READING AND WRITING OBTAIN A SHEET
OF PAPER AFTER NINE YEARS' EFFORT THE LETTER ARMSBY, THE
MEAN WHITE PARTIALLY CONFIDE IN HIM HIS TREACHERY EPPs'
SUSPICIONS HOW THEY WERE QUIETED BURNING THE LETTER ARMS-
BY LEAVES THE BAYOU DISAPPOINTMENT AND DESPAIR.
With the exception of my trip to St. Mary's parish,
and my absence during the cane-cutting seasons, I
was constantly employed on the plantation of Master
Epps. He was considered but a small planter, not
having a sufficient number of hands to require the
services of an overseer, acting in the latter capacity
himself. Not able to increase his force, it was his
custom to hire during the hurry of cotton-picking.
On larger estates, employing fifty or a hundred, or
perhaps two hundred hands, an overseer is deemed
indispensable. These gentlemen ride into the field
on horseback, without an exception,to my knowledge,
armed with pistols, bowie knife, whip, and accompa-
nied by several dogs. They follow, equipped in this
fashion, in rear of the slaves, keeping a sharp lookout
224 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
upon tliem all. The requisite qualifications JXL_an_
overseer are utter heartlessness, brutality and cruelty..
It is liis business to produce large crops, and if that is
accomplished, no matter what amount of suffering it
may have cost. The presence of the dogs are neces-
sary to overhaul a fugitive who may take to his heels,
as is sometimes the case, when faint or sick, he is un-
able to maintin his row, and unable, also, to en-
dure the whip. The pistols are reserved for any dan-
gerous emergency, there having been instances when
such weapons were necessary. Goaded into uncon-
trollable madness, even the slave will sometimes turn
upon his oppressor. The gallows were standing at
Marksville last January, upon which one was execu-
ted a year ago for killing his overseer. It occurred
not many miles from Epps' plantation on Red River.
The slave was given his task at splitting rails. In
the course of the day the overseer sent him on an
errand, which occupied so much time that it was not
possible for him to perform the task. The next day
lie was called to an account, but the loss of time oc-
casioned by the errand was no excuse, and he was
ordered to kneel and bare his back for the reception
of the lash. They were in the woods alone — beyond
the reach of sight or hearing. The boy submitted
until maddened at such injustice, and insane with
pain, he sprang to his feet, and seizing an axe, liter-
ally chopped the overseer in pieces. He made no at-
tempt whatever at concealment, but hastening to his
master, related the whole affair, and declared himself
SLAVE DRIVERS. 225
ready to expiate the wrong by the sacrifice of his life.
He was led to the scaffold, and while the rope was
around his neck, maintained an undismayed and
fearless bearing, and with his last words justified the
Besides the overseer, there are drivers tinder him,
the number being in proportion to the number of
hands in the field. The drivers are black, who, in
addition to the performance of their equal share of
work, are compelled to do the whipping of .....their
severalgangs. Whips hang around their necks, and
if they fail to use them^thoroughly, are whipped
themselves. They have a few privileges, however ;
for example, in cane-cutting the hands are not allow-
ed to sit down long enough to eat their dinners. Carts
filled with corn cake, cooked at the kitchen, are driv-
en into the field at noon. The cake is distributed by
the drivers, and must be eaten with the least possible
When the slave ceases to perspire, as he often does
when taxed beyond his strength, he falls to the ground
and becomes entirely helpless. It is then the duty
of the driver to drag him into the shade of the stand-
ing cotton or cane, or of a neighboring tree, where
he dashes buckets of water upon him, and uses other
means of bringing out perspiration again, when he is
ordered to his place, and compelled to continue his
At Huff Power, when I first came to Epps', Tom,
one of Roberts' negroes, was driver. He was a burly
226 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
fellow, and severe in the extreme. After Epps' re-
moval to Bayou Boeuf, that distinguished honor was
conferred upon myself. Up to the tune of my de-
parture I had to wear a whip about my neck in the
field. If Epps was present, I dared not show any
lenity, not having the Christian fortitude of a certain
well-known Uncle Tom sufficiently to brave his wrath,
by refusing to perform the office. In that way, only,
I escaped the immediate martyrdom he suffered, and,
withal, saved my companions much suffering, as it
proved in the end. Epps, I soon found, whether
actually in the field or not, had his eyes pretty gen-
erally upon us. From the piazza, from behind some
adjacent tree, or other concealed point of observation,
he was perpetually on the watch. If one of us had
been backward or idle through the day, we were apt
to be told all about it on returning to the quarters,
and as it was a matter of principle with him. to re-
prove every offence of that kind that came within his
knowledge, the offender not only was certain of re-
ceiving a castigation for his tardiness, but I likewise
was punished for permitting it.
If, on the other hand, he had seen me use the lash
freely, the man was satisfied. " Practice makes per-
fect," truly ; and during my eight years' experience
as a driver, I learned to handle the whip with mar-
velous dexterity and precision, throwing the lash
■within a hair's breadth of the back, the ear, the nose,
without, however, touching either of them. If Epps
was observed at a distance, or we had reason to ap-
APPOINTED DRIVER. , 227
prehend lie was sneaking somewhere in the vicinity,
I would commence plying the lash vigorously, when,
according to arrangement, they would squirm and
screech as if in agony, although not one of them had
in fact been even grazed. Patsey would take occa-
sion, if he made his appearance presently, to mumble
in his hearing some complaints that Piatt was lash-
ing them the whole time, and Uncle Abram, with an
appearance of honesty peculiar to himself, would de-
clare roundly I had just whipped them worse than
General Jackson whipped the enemy at New-Orleans,
If Epps was not drunk, and in one of his beastly hu-
mors, this was, in general, satisfactory. If he was,
some one or more of us must suffer, as a matter of
course. Sometimes his violence assumed a dangerous
form, placing the lives of his human stock in jeop-
ardy. On one occasion the drunken madman thought
to amuse himself by cutting my throat.
He had been absent at Holmesville, in attendance at
a shooting-match, and none of us were aware of his
return. While hoeing by the side of Patsey, she ex- 1
claimed, in a low voice, suddenly, " Piatt, d'ye see
old Hog-Jaw beckoning me to come to him ?"
Glancing sideways, I discovered him in the edge
of the field, motioning and grimacing, as was his habit
when half-intoxicated. Aware of his lewd intentions,
Patsey began to cry. I whispered her not to look up,
and to continue at her work, as if she had not ob-
served him. Suspecting the truth of the matter,
however, he soon staggered up to me in a gr8at rage.
228 TWELVE TEARS A SLAVE.
" What did you say to Pats ?•" he demanded, with
an oath. I made him some evasive ariswer, which
only had the effect of increasing his violence.
" How long have you owned this plantation, say,
you d d nigger ?" he inquired, with a malicious
sneer, at the same time taking hold of my shirt col-
Jar with one hand, and thrusting the other into his
pocket. " ]STow I'll cut your black throat ; that's
what I'll do," drawing his knife from his pocket as
he said it. But with one hand he was unable to
open it, until finally seizing the blade in his teeth, I
saw he was about to succeed, and felt the necessity
of escaping from him, for in his present reckless state,
it was evident he was not joking, by any means. My
shirt was open in front, and as I turned round quickly
and sprang from him, while he still retained his gripe,
it was stripped entirely from my back. There was
no difiiculty now in eluding him. He would chase
me until out of breath, then stop until it was recov-
ered, swear, and renew the chase again. ISTow he
would command me to come to him, now endeavor
to coax me, but I was careful to keep at a respectful]
distance. In this manner we made the circuit of the
field several times, he making desperate plunges, and
I always dodging them, more amused than frightened,
well knowing that when his sober senses returned,
he would laugh at his own drunken folly. At length
I observed the mistress standing by the yard fence,
watching our half-serious, half-comical manoeuvres.
Shooting past him, I ran directly to her. Epps, on
PROTECTED BY THE MISTRESS. 229
discovering her, did not follow. He remained about,
the field an hour or more, during which time I stood
by the mistress, having related the particulars of
what had taken place. Now, she was aroused again,
denouncing her husband and Patsey about equally.
Finally, Epps came towards the house, by this time
nearly sober, walking demurely, with his hands be-
hind his back, and attempting to look as innocent as
As he approached, nevertheless, Mistress Epps be-
gan to berate him roundly, heaping upon him many
rather disrespectful epithets, and demanding for what
reason he had attempted to cut my throat. Epps
made wondrous strange of it all, and to my surprise,
swore by all the saints in the calendar he had not
spoken to me that day.
" Piatt, you lying nigger, have I?" was his brazen
appeal to me.
It is not safe to contradict a master, even by the
assertion of a truth. So I was silent, and when he en-
tered the house I" returned to the field, and the affair
was never after alluded to.
Shortly after this time a circumstance occurred that
came nigh divulging the secret of my real name and
history, which I had so long and carefully concealed,
and upon which I was convinced depended my final
escape. Soon after he purchased me, Epps asked
me if I could write and read, and on being informed
that I had received some instruction in those branches
of education, he assured me, with emphasis, if he ever
230 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
caught Hie with a book, or with, pen and ink, he would
give me a hundred lashes. He said he wanted me to
understand that he bought " niggers" to work and not
to educate. He never inquired a word of my past
life, or from whence I came. The mistress, however,
cross-examined me frequently about Washington,
which she supposed was my native city, and more
than once remarked that I did not talk nor act like
the other " niggers," and she was sure I had seen more
of the world than I admitted.
My great object always was to invent means of get-
ting a letter secretly into the post-office, directed to
some of my friends or family at the North. The diffi-
culty of such an achievement cannot be comprehend-
ed by one unacquainted with the severe restrictions
imposed upon me. In the first place, I was deprived
of pen, ink, and paper. In the second place, a slave
cannot leave his plantation without a pass, nor will a
post-master mail a letter for one without written in-
structions from his owner. I was in slavery nine
years, and always watchful and on the alert, before I
met with the good fortune of obtaining a sheet of pa-
per. "While Epps was in New-Orleans, one winter,
disposing of his cotton, the mistress sent me to Holmes-
ville, with an order for several articles, and among
the rest a quantity of foolscap. I appropriated a sheet,
concealing it in the cabin, under the board on which
After various experiments I succeeded in making
ink, by boiling white maple bark, and with a feather
THE LETTE2, 231
plucked from the wing of a duck, manufactured a
pen. "When all were asleep in the cabin, by the light
of the coals, lying upon my plank couch, I managed
to complete a somewhat lengthy epistle. It was di-
rected to an old acquaintance at Sandy Hill, stating
my condition, and urging him to take measures to re-
store me to liberty. This letter I kept a long time,
contriving measures by which it could be safely de-
posited in the post-office. At length, a low fellow, by
the name of Armsby, hitherto a stranger, came into
the neighb orKoocITseeking a situation as overseer.
He applied to Epps, and was about the plantation for
several days. He next went over to Shaw's, near by,
and remained with him several weeks. Shaw was
generally surrounded by such worthless characters,
being himself noted as a gambler and unprincipled
man. He had made a wife of his slave Charlotte, and
a brood of young mulattoes were growing up in his
house. Armsby became so much reduced at last,
that he was compelled to labor with the slaves. A
white man working in the field is a rare and unusual
spectacle on Bayou Bceuf. I improved every oppor-
tunity of cultivating his acquaintance privately, de-
siring to obtain his confidence so far as to be willing
to intrust the letter to his keeping. He visited Marks-
ville repeatedly, he informed me, a town some twenty
miles distant, and there, I proposed to myself, the let-
ter should be mailed.
Carefully deliberating on the most proper manner
of approaching him on the subject, I concluded final-
232 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
lj to ask him simply if he would deposit a letter for
me in the Marksville post-office the next time he vis-
ited that place, without disclosing to him that the let-
ter was written, or any of the particulars it contained ;
for I had fears that he might betray me, and knew
that some inducement must be held out to him of a
pecuniary nature, before it would be safe to confide
in him. As late as one o'clock one night I stole noise-
lessly from my cabin, and, crossing the field to Shaw's,
found him sleeping on the piazza. I had but a few
picayunes — the proceeds of my fiddling performan-
ces, but all I had in the world I promised him if he
would do me the favor required. I begged him not
to expose me if he could not grant the request. He
assured me, upon his honor, he would deposit it in the
Marksville post-office, and that he would keep it an
inviolable secret forever. Though the letter was in
my pocket at the time, I dared not then deliver it to
him, but stating I would have it written in a day or
two, bade him good night, and returned to my cab-
in. It was impossible for me to expel the suspicions
I entertained, and all night I lay awake, revolving in
my mind the safest course to pursue. I was willing
to risk a great deal to accomplish my purpose, but
should the letter by any means fall into the hands of
Epps, it would be a death-blow to my aspirations. I
was " perplexed in the extreme."
My suspicions were well-founded, as the sequel de-
monstrated. The next day but one, while scraping cot-
ton in the field, Epps seated himself on the line fence
epps' SUSPICIONS. 233
between Shaw's plantation and his own, in snch a po-
sition as to overlook the scene of our labors. Pres-
ently Armsby made his appearance, and, mounting
the fence, took a seat beside him. They remained
two or three hours, all of which time I was in an ag-
ony of apprehension.
That night, while broiling my bacon, Epps entered
the cabin with his rawhide in his hand.
" "Well, boy," said he, " I understand I've got a
larned nigger, that writes letters, and tries to get
white fellows to mail 'em. Wonder if you know who
he is ?"
My worst fears were realized, and although it may
not be considered entirely creditable, even under the
circumstances, yet a resort to duplicity and downright
falsehood was the only refuge that presented itself.
" Don't know nothing about it, Master Epps," I an-
swered him, assuming an air of ignorance and sur-
prise ; " Don't know nothing at all about it, sir."
" "Wan't you over to Shaw's night before last ?" he
" No, master," was the reply.
" Hav'nt you asked that fellow, Armsby, to mail a
letter for you at Marksville ?"
" "Why, Lord, master, I never spoke three words to
him in all my life. I don't know what you mean."
" Well," he continued, " Armsby told me to-day the
devil was among my niggers ; that I had one that
needed close watching or he would run away ; and
when I axed him why, he said you come over to
234 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
Shaw's, and waked him up in the night, and wanted
him to carry a letter to Marksville. What have you
got to say to that, ha ?"
" All I've got to say, master," I replied, " is, there
is no truth in it. How could I write a letter without
any ink or paper ? There is nobody I want to write
to, 'cause I haint got no friends living as I know of.
That Armsby is a lying, drunken fellow, they say, and
nobody believes him anyway. Ton know I always
tell the truth, and that I never go off the plantation
without a pass. ]STow, master, I can see what that
Armsby is after, plain enough. Did'nt he want you
to hire him for an overseer ?"
" Yes, he wanted me to hire him," answered Epps.
" That's it," said I, " he wants to make you believe
we're all going to run away, and then he thinks you'll
hire an overseer to watch us. He just made that sto-
ry out of whole cloth, 'cause he wants to get a situa-
tion. It's all a lie, master, you may depend on't."
Epps mused awhile, evidently impressed with the
plausibility of my theory, and exclaimed,
"I'm d — d, Piatt, if I don't believe you tell the
truth. He must take me for a soft, to think he can
come it over me with them kind of yarns, musn't he ?
Maybe he thinks he can fool me ; maybe he thinks
I don't know nothing— can't take care of my own
niggers, eh ! Soft soap old Epps, eh ! Ha, ha, ha !
D — n Arnisby! Set the dogs on him, Piatt," and
with many other comments descriptive of Armsby's
general character, and his capability of taking care of
DISAPPOINTMENT AND DESPAIR. 235
his own business, and attending to his own " niggers,"
Master Epps left the cabin. As soon as he was gone
I threw the letter in the fire, and, with a desponding
and despairing heart, beheld the epistle which had
cost me so much anxiety and thought, and which I
fondly hoped would have been my forerunner to the
land of freedom, writhe and shrivel on its bed of coals,
and dissolve into smoke and ashes. Armsby, the
treacherous wretch, was driven from Shaw's planta-
tion not long subsequently, much to my relief, for I
feared he might renew his conversation, and perhaps
induce Epps to credit him.
I knew not now whither to look for deliverance.
Hopes sprang up in my heart only to be crushed and
blighted. The summer of my life was passing away ;
I felt I was growing prematurely old ; that a few
years more, and toil, and grief, and the poisonous mi-
asmas of the swamps would accomplish their work
upon me — would consign me to the grave's embrace,
to moulder and be forgotten. Repelled, betrayed, cut
off from the hope of succor, I could only prostrate
myself upon the earth and groan in unutterable an-
guish. The hope of rescue was the only light that
cast a ray of comfort on my heart. That was now
nickering, faint and low ; another breath of disap-
pointment would extinguish it altogether, leaving me
to grope in midnight darkness to the end of life.
WILEY DISREGARDS THE COUNSELS OF AUNT PHEBE AND UNCLE ABRAM,
AND IS CAUGHT BY THE PATROLLERS THE ORGANIZATION AND DUTIES
OF THE LATTER "WILEY RUNS AWAY SPECULATIONS IN REGARD TO
HIM HIS UNEXPECTED RETURN HIS CAPTURE ON RED RIVER, AND
CONFINEMENT IN ALEXANDRIA JAIL DISCOVERED BY JOSEPH B. ROB-
ERTS SUBDUING DOGS IN ANTICIPATION OF ESCAPE THE FUGITIVES
IN THE GREAT PINE WOODS CAPTURED BY ADAM TAYDEM AND THE
INDIANS AUGUSTUS KILLED BY DOGS NELLY, ELDRET's SLAVE WOMAN
THE STORY OF CELESTE THE CONCERTED MOVEMENT LEW CHEENEY,
THE TRAITOR THE IDEA OF INSURRECTION.
The year 1850, down to which, time I have now ar-
rived, omitting many occurrences uninteresting to the
reader, was an unlucky year for my companion "Wiley,
the husband of Phebe, whose taciturn and retiring
nature has thus far kept him in the background. Not-
withstanding Wiley seldom opened his mouth, and
revolved in his obscure and unpretending orbit with-
out a grumble, nevertheless the warm elements of so-
ciality were strong in the bosom of that silent " nig-
ger." In the exuberance of his self-reliance, disre-
garding the philosophy of Uncle Abram, and setting
the counsels of Aunt Phebe utterly at naught, he had
the fool-hardiness to essay a nocturnal visit to a neigh-
boring cabin without a pass.
WILET T S INDISCRETION. 237
So attractive was "the society in which he found
himself, that "Wiley took little note of the passing
hours, and the light began to break in the east before
he was aware. Speeding homeward as fast as he
could run, he hoped to reach the quarters before the
horn would sound ; but, unhappily, he was spied on
the way by a company of patrollers.
How it is in other dark places of slavery, I do not
know, but on Bayou Boeuf there is an organization of
patrollers, as they are styled, whose business it is to
seize and whip any slave they may find wandering
from the plantation. They ride on horseback, headed
by a captain, armed, and accompanied by dogs. They
have the right, either by law, or by general consent,
to inflict discretionary chastisement upon a black man
caught beyond the boundaries of his master's estate
without a pass, and even to shoot him, if he attempts
to escape. Each company has a certain distance to
ride up and down the bayou. They are compensated
by the planters, who contribute in proportion to the
number of slaves they own. The clatter of their hor-
ses' hoofs dashing by can be heard at all hours of the
night, and frequently they may be seen driving a
slave before them, or leading him by a rope fastened
around his neck, to his owner's plantation.
"Wiley fled before one of these companies, thinking
he could reach his cabin before they could overtake
him ; but one of their dogs, a great ravenous hound,
griped him by the leg, and held him fast. The pa-
trollers whipped him severely, and brought him, a
238 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
prisoner, to Epps. From liim lie received another
flagellation still more severe, so that the cuts of the
lash and the bites of the dog rendered him sore, stiff
and miserable, insomuch he was scarcely able to move.
It was impossible in such a state to keep up his row,
and consequently there was not an hour in the day
but "Wiley felt the sting of his master's rawhide on
his raw and bleeding back. His sufferings became
intolerable, and finally he resolved to run away.
| "Without disclosing his intentions to run away even
to his wife Phebe, he proceeded to make arrange-
ments for carrying his plan into execution. Having
cooked his whole week's allowance, he cautiously left
the cabin on a Sunday night, after the inmates of the
quarters were asleep. When the horn sounded in the
morning, Wiley did not make his appearance. Search
was made for him in the cabins, in the corn-crib, in
the cotton-house, and in every nook and corner of the
premises. Each of us was examined, touching any
knowledge we might have that could throw light upon
his sudden disappearance or present whereabouts.
Epps raved and stormed, and mounting his horse, gal-
loped to neighboring plantations, making inquiries
in all directions. The search was fruitless. Nothing
whatever was elicited, going to show what had be-
come of the missing man. The dogs were led to the
swamp, but were unable to strike his trail. They
would circle away through the forest, then* noses to
the ground, but invariably returned in a short time
to the spot from whence they started.
wilet's capture on red river. 239
Wiley had escaped, and so secretly and cautiously
as to elude and baffle all pursuit. Days and even
weeks passed away, and nothing could be heard of
him. Epps did nothing but curse and swear. It was
the only topic of conversation among us when alone.
We indulged in a great deal of speculation in regard
to him, one suggesting he might have been drowned
in some bayou, inasmuch as he was a poor swimmer ;
another, that perhaps he might have been devoured
by alligators, or stung by the venomous moccasin,
whose bite is certain and sudden death. The warm
and hearty sympathies of us all, however, were
with poor Wiley, wherever he might be. Many an
earnest prayer ascended from the lips of Uncle Abram,
beseeching safety for the wanderer.
In about three weeks, when all hope of ever seeing
him again was dismissed, to our surprise, he one day
appeared among us. On leaving the plantation, he
informed us, it was his intention to make his way
back to South Carolina — to the old quarters of Mas-
ter Buford. During the day he remained secreted,
sometimes in the branches of a tree, and at night
pressed forward through the swamps. Finally, one
morning, just at dawn, he reached the shore of Red
River. While standing on the bank, considering how
he could cross it, a white man accosted him, and de-
manded a pass. Without one, and evidently a runa-
way, he was taken to Alexandria, the shire town of
the parish of Rapides, and confined in prison. It
happened several days after that Joseph B. Roberts,
240 TWELVE YEAES A SLAVE.
uncle of Mistress Epps, was in Alexandria, and going
into the jail, recognized him. Wiley had worked on
his plantation, when Epps resided at Huff Power.
Paying the jail fee, and writing him a pass, under-
neath which was a note to Epps, requesting him not
to whip him on his return, Wiley was sent back to
Bayou Boeuf. It was the hope that hung upon this
request, and which Roberts assured him would be re-
spected by his master, that sustained him as he ap-
proached the house. The request, however, as may
be readily supposed, was entirely disregarded. After
being kept in suspense three days, Wiley Was stripped,
and compelled to endure one of those inhuman flog-
gings to which the poor slave is so often subjected.
It was the first and last attempt of Wiley to run away.
The long scars upon his back, which he will carry
with him to the grave, perpetually remind him of the
dangers of such a step.
There was not a day throughout the ten years I be-
longed to Epps that I did not consult with myself upon
the prospect of escape. I laid many plans, which at
the time I considered excellent ones, but one after the
other they were all abandoned. ISTo man who has
never been placed in such a situation, can comprehend
the thousand obstacles thrown in the way of the flying
slave. Every white man's hand is raised against him
— the patrollers are watching for him — the hounds
are ready to follow on his track, and the nature of
the country is such as renders it impossible to pass
through it with any safety. I thought, however, thai;
FUGITIVES IN THE PINE WOODS. 241
the time might come, perhaps, when I should he run-
ning through the swamps again. I concluded, in that
case, to be prepared for Epps' dogs, should they pur-
sue me. He possessed several, one of which was a
notorious slave-hunter, and the most fierce and savage
of his breed. While out hunting the coon or the
opossum, I never allowed an opportunity to escape,
when alone, of whipping them severely. In this man-.,
ner I succeeded at length in subduing them com-
pletely. They feared me, obeying my voice at once
when others had no control over them whatever.
Had they followed and overtaken me, I doubt not
they would have shrank from attacking me.
Notwithstanding the certainty of being captured,
the woods and swamps are, nevertheless, continually
filled with runaways. Many of them, when sick, or
so worn out as to be unable to perform their tasks,
escape into the swamps, willing to suffer the punish-
ment inflicted for such offences, in order to obtain a
day or two of rest.
While I belonged to Ford, I was unwittingly the
means of disclosing the hiding-place of six or eight,
who had taken up their residence in the " Great Pine
"Woods." Adam Taydem frequently sent me from
the mills over to the opening after provisions. The
whole distance was then a thick pine forest. About
ten o'clock of a beautiful moonlight night, while
walking along the Texas road, returning to the mills,
carrying a dressed pig in a bag swimg over my
shoulder, I heard footsteps behind me, and turning
242 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
round, beheld two black men in the dress of slaves
approaching at a rapid pace. When within a short
distance, one of them raised a club, as if intending to
strike me ; the other snatched at the bag. I managed
to dodge them both, and seizing a pine knot, hurled
it with such force against the head of one of them
that he was prostrated apparently senseless to the
ground. Just then two more made their appearance
from one side of the road. Before they could grapple
me, however, I succeeded in passing them, and taking
to my heels, fled, much aftrighted, towards the mills.
"When Adam was informed of the adventure, he
hastened straightway to the Indian village, and arous-
ing Cascalla and several of his tribe, started in pur-
suit of the highwaymen. I accompanied them to the
scene of attack, when we discovered a puddle of
blood in the road, where the man whom I had smit-
ten with the pine knot had fallen. After searching
carefully through the woods a long time, one of Cas-
calla's men discovered a smoke curling up through
the branches of several prostrate pines, whose tops
had fallen together. The rendezvous was cautiously
surrounded, and all of them taken prisoners. They
had escaped from a plantation in the vicinity of La-
rnourie. and had been secreted there three weeks.
They had no evil design upon me, except to frighten
me out of my pig. Having observed me passing
towards Ford*s just at night-fall, and suspecting the
nature of my errand, they had followed me, seen me
butcher and dress the porker, and start on my return.
AUGUSTUS KILLED BY DOGS. 243
They had been pinched for food, and were driven
to this extremity by necessity. Adam conveyed
them to the parish jail, and was liberally rewarded.
Not unfrequently the runaway loses his life in the
attempt to escape. Epps' premises were bounded Ci
one side by Carey's, a very extensive sugar planta-
tion. He cultivates annually at least fifteen hundred
acres of cane, manufacturing twenty-two or twenty-
three hundred hogsheads of sugar ; an hogshead and
a half being the usual yield of an acre. Besides this
he also cultivates five or six hundred acres of corn and
cotton. He owned last year one hundred and fifty
three field hands, besides nearly as many children, and
yearly hires a drove during the busy season from this
side the Mississippi.
One of his negro drivers, a pleasant, intelligent,
boy, was named Augustus. During the holidays, and
occasionally while at work in adjoining fields, I ha<?
an opportunity of making his acquaintance, which
eventually ripened into a warm and mutual attach-
ment. Summer before last he was so unfortunate as
to incur the displeasure of the overseer, a coarse,
heartless brute, who whipped him most cruelly. Au-
gustus ran away. Reaching a cane rick on Hawkins'
plantation, he secreted himself in the top of it. All
Carey's dogs were put upon his track — some fifteen
of them — and soon scented his footsteps to the hiding
place. They surrounded the rick, baying and scratch-
ing, but could not reach him. Presently, guided by
the clamor of the hounds, the pursuers rode up, when
244 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
the overseer, mounting on to the rick, drew him forth.
As life rolled down to the ground the whole pack
plunged upon him, and before they could be beaten
off, had gnawed and mutilated his body in the most
shocking manner, their teeth having penetrated to
the bone in an hundred places. He was taken up,
tied upon a mule, and carried home. But this was
Augustus' last trouble. He lingered until the next
day, when death sought the unhappy boy, and kindly
relieved him from his agony.
It was not unusual for slave women as well as slave
men to endeavor to escape. Nelly, Eldret's girl, with
whom I lumbered for a time in the "Big Cane
Brake," lay concealed in Epps' corn crib three days.
At night, when his family were asleep, she would
steal into the quarters for food, and return to the crib
again. "We concluded it would no longer be safe for
us to allow her to remain, and accordingly she re
traced her steps to her own cabin.
But the most remarkable instance of a successful
evasion of dogs and hunters was the following :
Among Carey's girls was one by the name of Celeste.
She was nineteen or twenty, and far whiter than her
owner, or any of his offspring. It required a close
inspection to distinguish in her features the slightest
trace of African blood. A stranger would never
have dreamed that she was the descendant of slaves.
I was sitting in my cabin late at night, playing a low
air on my violin, when the door opened carefully, and
Celeste stood before me. She was pale and haggard.
STORY OF CELESTE. 245
Had an apparition arisen from the earth, I could not
have been more startled.
" Who are you ?'' I demanded, after gazing at her
" I'm hungry ; give me some bacon," was her reply.
My first impression was that she was some de-
ranged young mistress, who, escaping from home, was
wandering, she knew not whither, and had been
attracted to my cabin by the sound of the violin.
The coarse cotton slave dress she wore, however, soon
dispelled such a supposition.
" What is your name ?" I again interrogated.
" My name is Celeste," she answered. " I belong
to Carey, and have been two days among the pal-
mettoes. I am sick and can't work, and would rather
die in the swamp than be whipped to death by the
overseer. Carey's dogs won't follow me. They have
tried to set them on. There's a secret between them
and Celeste, and they wont mind the devilish orders
of the overseer. Give me some meat — I'm starving."
I divided my scanty allowance with her, and while
partaking of it, she related how she had managed to
escape, and described the place of her concealment.
In the edge of the swamp, not half a mile from Epps'
house, was a large space, thousands of acres in
extent, thickly covered with palmetto. Tall trees,
whose long arms interlocked each other, formed a
canopy above them, so dense as to exclude the beams
of the sun. It was like twilight always, even in the
middle of the brightest day. In the centre of this
246 TWELVE TEAKS A SLAVE.
great space, which nothing but serpents very often
explore — a sombre and solitary spot — Celeste had
erected a rude hut of dead branches that had fallen
to the ground, and covered it with the leaves of the
palmetto. This was the abode she had selected.
She had no fear of Carey's dogs, any more than I had
of Epps'. It is a fact, which I have never been able
to explain, that there, are those whose tracks the
hounds will absolutely refuse to follow. Celeste was
one of them.
For several nights she came to my cabin for food.
On one occasion our dogs barked as she approached,
which aroused Epps, and induced him to reconnoitre
the premises. He did not discover her, but after that
it was not deemed prudent for her to come to the
yard. When all was silent I carried provisions to a
certain spot agreed upon, where she would find them.
In this manner Celeste passed the greater part of
the summer. She regained her health, and became
strong and hearty. At all seasons of the year the
howlings of wild animals can be heard at night along
the borders of the swamps. Several times they had
made her a midnight call, awakening her from slum-
ber with a growl. Terrified by such unpleasant salu-
tations, she finally concluded to abandon her lonely
dwelling ; and, accordingly, returning to her master,
was scourged, her neck meanwhile being fastened in
the stocks, and sent into the field again.
The year before my arrival in the country there
was a concerted movement among a number of slaves
THE CONCERTED MOVEMENT. 247
on Bayou Bceuf, that terminated tragically indeed:
It was, I presume, a matter of newspaper notoriety at
the time, but all the knowledge I have of it, has been
derived from the relation of those living at that period
in the immediate vicinity of the excitement. It has
become a subject of general and unfailing interest in
every slave-hat on the bayon, and will doubtless go
down to succeeding generations as their chief tradi-
tion. Lew Cheney, with whom I became acquainted
— a shrewd, cunning negro, more intelligent than the
generality of his race, but unscrupulous and full of
treachery — conceived the project of organizing a com-
pany sufficiently strong to fight their way against all
opposition, to the neighboring territory of Mexico.
A remote spot, far within the depths of the swamp,
back of Hawkins' plantation, was selected as the ral-
lying point. Lew flitted from one plantation to an-
other, in the dead of night, preaching a crusade to
Mexico, and, like Peter the Hermit, creating a furor
of excitement wherever he appeared. At length a
large number of runaways were assembled; stolen
mules, and corn gathered from the fields, and bacon
filched from smoke-houses, had been conveyed into
the woods. The expedition was about ready to pro-
ceed, when their hiding place was discovered. Lew
Cheney, becoming convinced of the ultimate failure
of his project, in order to curry favor with his master,
and avoid the consequences which he foresaw would
follow, deliberately determined to sacrifice all his
companions. Departing secretly from the encamp-
248 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
Bient,. he proclaimed among the planters the number
collected in the swamp, and, instead of stating truly
the object they had in view, asserted their intention
was to emerge from their seclusion the first favorable
Opportunity, and murder every white person along the
Such an announcement, exaggerated as it passed
from 'mouth to mouth, filled the whole country with
terror. The fugitives were surrounded and taken pris-
oners, carried in chains to Alexandria, and hung by
the populace. ISTot only those, but many who were
suspected, though entirely innocent, were taken from
the field and from the cabin, and without the shadow
of process or form of trial, hurried to the scaffold.
The planter's on Bayou Boeuf finally rebelled against
such reckless destruction of property, but it was not
until a regiment of soldiers had arrived from some
fort on the Texan frontier, demolished the gallows,
and opened the doors of the Alexandria prison, that
the indiscriminate slaughter was stayed. Lew Che-
ney escaped, and was even rewarded for his treachery.
He is still living, but his name is despised and exe-
crated by all his race throughout the parishes of
Rapides and Avoyelles.
Such an idea as insurrection, however, is not new
among the enslaved population of Bayou Bceuf. More
than once I have joined in serious consultation, when
the subject has been discussed, and there have been
times when a word from me would have placed hun-
dreds of my fellow-bondsmen in an attitude of defi-
THE IDEA OF INSURRECTION. 240
ance. Without arms or ammunition, or even with
them, I saw such a step would result in certain defeat,
disaster and death, and always raised my voice
During the Mexican war I well remember the ex-
travagant hopes that were excited. The news of vie
tory filled the great house with rejoicing, but pro-
duced only sorrow and disappointment in the cabin.
In my opinion — and I have had opportunity to know
something of the feeling of which I speak — there are
not fifty slaves on the shores of Bayou Bceuf, but
would hail with unmeasured delight the approach of
an invading army.
They are deceived who flatter themselves that the
ignorant and debased slave has no conception of the
magnitude of his wrongs. They are deceived who
imagine that he arises from his knees, with back la-
cerated and bleeding, cherishing only a spirit of meek-
ness and forgiveness. A day may come — it will
come, if his prayer is heard — a terrible day of ven-
geance, when the master in his turn will cry in vain
o'nTEL, THE TANNER CONVERSATION' WITH AUNT PHEEE OVERHEARD EPPS
IN THE TANNING BUSINESS STABBING OF UNCLE ABRAM THE UGLY
WOUND EPPS IS JEALOUS PATS EY IS MISSING HER RETURN FROM
SHAW'S HARRIET, SHAW's BLACK WIFE EPPS ENRAGED PATSEY DE-
NIES EH CHARGES SHE IS TIED DOWN NAKED TO FOUR STAKES THE
INHUMAN FLOGGING FLAYING OF PATSEY THE BEAUTY OF THE DAY —
THE BUCKET OF SALT WATER THE DRESS STIFF WITH BLOOD PATSEY
GROWS MELANCHOLY HER IDEA OF GOD AND ETERNITY OF HEAVEN AND
FREEDOM THE EFFECT OF SLAVE -WHIPPING EPPs' OLDEST SON "THE
CHILD IS FATHER TO THE MAN."
"Wiley suffered severely at the hands of Master
Epps, as has been related in the preceding chapter,
but in this respect he fared no worse than his unfor-
tunate companions. " Spare the rod," was an idea
scouted by our master. He was constitutionally sub-
ject to periods of ill-humor, and at such times, how-
ever little provocation there might be, a certain
amount of punishment was inflicted. The circum-
stances attending the last flogging but one that I re-
ceived, will show how trivial a cause was sufficient
with him for resorting to the whip.
A Mr. O'lSTiel, residing in the vicinity of the Big
Pine Woods, called upon Epps for the purpose of pur-
? iNIEL, THE TANNEB-. 251
chasing me. He was a tanner and currier by occu-
pation, transacting an extensive business, and intend-
ed to place me at service in some department of his
establishment, provided he bought me. Aunt Phebe,,
while preparing the dinner-table in the great house,
overheard their conversation. On returning to the
yard at night, the old woman ran to meet me, design-
ing, of course, to overwhelm me with the news. She
entered into a minute repetition of all she had heard,
and Aunt Phebe was one whose ears never failed to
drink in every word of conversation uttered in her
hearing. She enlarged upon the fact that "Massa
Epps was g'wine to sell me to a tanner ober in de
Pine Woods," so long and loudly as to attract the at-
tention of the mistress, who, standing unobserved on
the piazza at the time, was listening to our conver-
" Well, Aunt Phebe," said I, " I'm glad of it. I'm
tired of scraping cotton, and would rather be a tanner.
I hope he'll buy me."
O'Niel did not effect a purchase, however, the par-
ties differing as to price, and the morning following
his arrival, departed homewards. He had been gone
but a short time, when Epps made his appearance in
the field. ISTow nothing will more violently enrage a
master, especially Epps, than the intimation of one of
his servants that he would like to leave him. Mis-
tress Epps had repeated to him my expressions to
Aunt Phebe the evening previous, as I learned from
the latter afterwards, the mistress having mentioned
252 TWELVE TEAKS A SLAVE.
to her that she had overheard us. On entering the
field, Epps walked directly to me.
" So, Piatt, you're tired of scraping cotton, are you?
You would like to change your master, eh ? You're
fond of moving round — traveler — ain't ye ? Ah,
yes — -like to travel for your health, may be? Feel
above cotton-scraping, I 'spose. So you're going into
the tanning business ? Good business — devilish fine
business. Enterprising nigger ! B'lieve I'll go into
that business myself. Down on your knees, and strip
that rag off your back ! I'll try my hand at tanning."
I begged earnestly, and endeavored to soften him
with excuses, but in vain. There was no other alter-
native ; so kneeling down, I presented my bare back
for the application of the lash.
" How do you like tanning ?" he exclaimed, as the
rawhide descended upon my flesh. " How do you
like tanning f " he repeated at every blow. In this
manner he gave me twenty or thirty lashes, inces-
santly giving utterance to the word " tanning," in one
form of expression or another. When sufficiently
" tanned," he allowed me to arise, and with a half-
malicious laugh assured me, if I still fancied the busi-
ness, he would give me further instruction in it when-
ever I desired. This time, he remarked, he had only
given me a short lesson in " tanning " — the next time
he would " curry me down."
Uncle Abmm, also, was frequently treated with
great brutality, although he was one of the kindest
and most faithful creatures in the world. He was my
STABBING OF UNCLE ABEAM. 253
cabin-mate for years. There was a benevolent ex-
pression in the old man's face, pleasant to behold.
He regarded us with a kind of parental feeling, always
counseling us witli remarkable gravity and delibe-
Returning from Marshall's plantation one afternoon,
whither I had been sent on some errand of the mis-
tress, I found him lying on the cabin floor, his clothes
saturated with blood. He informed me that he had
been stabbed ! While spreading cotton on the scaf-
fold, Epps came home intoxicated from Holmesville,
He found fault with every thing, giving many orders
so directly contrary that it was impossible to execute
any of them. Uncle Abram, whose faculties were
growing dull, became confused, and committed some
blunder of no particular consequence. Epps was so
enraged thereat, that, with drunken recklessness, he
flew upon the old man, and stabbed him in the back.
It was a long, ugly wound, but did not happen to
penetrate far enough to result fatally. It was sewed
up by the mistress, who censured her husband with
extreme severity, not only denouncing his inhumanity,
but declaring that she expected nothing else than that
he would bring the family to poverty — that he would
kill all the slaves on the plantation in Tsonie of his
It was no uncommon thing with him to prostrate
Aunt Phebe with a chair or stick of wood ; but the
most cruel whipping that ever I was doomed to wit-
ness — one I can never recall with any other emotion
254 TWELVE TEAKS A SLAVE.
than that of horror — was inflicted on the unfortunate
It has been seen that the jealousy and hatred of
Mistress Epps made the daily life of her young and
agile slave completely miserable. I am happy in the
belief that on numerous occasions I was the means of
averting punishment from the inoffensive girl. In
Epps' absence the mistress often ordered me to whip
her without the remotest provocation. I would refuse,
saying that I feared my master's displeasure, and sev-
eral times ventured to remonstrate with her against
the treatment Patsey received. I endeavored to im-
press her with the truth that the latter was not re-
sponsible for the acts of which she complained, but
that she being a slave, and subject entirely to her
master's will, he alone was answerable.
At length " the green-eyed monster " crept into the
soul of Epps also, and then it was that he joined with
his wrathful wife in an infernal jubilee over the girl's
On a Sabbath day in hoeing time, not long ago, we
were on the bayou bank, washing our clothes, as was
our usual custom. Presently Patsey was missing,
Epps called aloud, but there was no answer. ~No one
had observed her leaving the yard, and it was a won-
der with us whither she had gone. In the course of
a couple of hours she was seen approaching from the
direction of Shaw's. This man, as has been intima-
ted, was a notorious profligate, and withal not on the
most friendly terms with Epps. Harriet, his black
PATSEY's RET DEN FROM SHAWNS. 255
wife, knowing Patsey's troubles, was kind to her, in
consequence of which the latter was in the habit of
going over to see her every opportunity. Her visits
were prompted by friendship merely, but the suspi-
cion gradually entered the brain of Epps, that another
and a baser passion led her thither — that it was not
Harriet she desired to meet, but rather the unblush-
ing libertine, his neighbor. Patsey found her master
in a fearful rage on her return. His violence so
alarmed her that at first she attempted to evade direct
answers to his questions, which only served to increase
his suspicions. She finally, however, drew herself up
proudly, and in a spirit of indignation boldly denied
" Missus don't give me soap to wash with, as she
does the rest," said Patsey, " and you know why. I
went over to Harriet's to get a piece," and saying this,
she drew it forth from a pocket in her dress and ex-
hibited it to him. " That's what I went to Shaw's for,
Massa Epps," continued she ; " the Lord knows that
" You lie, you black wench ! " shouted Epps.
" I don't lie, massa. If you kill me, I'll stick to that,"
" Oh ! I'll fetch you down. I'll learn you to go to
Shaw's. I'll take the starch out of ye," he muttered
fiercely through his shut teeth.
Then turning to me, he ordered four stakes to be
driven into the ground, pointing with the toe of his
boot to the places where he wanted them. "When the
stakes were driven down, he ordered her to be strips
256 TWELVE TEAKS A SLAVE.
ped of every article of dress. Ropes were then
brought, and the naked girl was laid upon her face,
her wrists and feet each tied firmly to a stake. Step-
ping to the piazza, he took down a heavy whip, and
placing it in my hands, commanded me to lash her.
Unpleasant as it was, I was compelled to obey him.
ISTowhere that day, on the face of the whole earth, I
venture to say, was there such a demoniac exhibition
witnessed as then ensued.
Mistress Epps stood on the piazza among her chil-
dren, gazing on the scene with an air of heartless sat-
isfaction. The slaves were huddled together at a lit-
tle distance, their countenances indicating the sorrow
of their hearts. Poor Patsey prayed piteously for
mercy, but her prayers were vain. Epps ground his
teeth, and stamped upon the ground, screaming at me,
like a mad fiend, to strike harder.
" Strike harder, or your turn will come next, you
scoundrel," he yelled.
" Oh, mercy, massa ! — -oh! have mercy, do. Oh,
God ! pity me," Patsey exclaimed continually, strug-
gling fruitlessly, and the flesh quivering at every
"When I had struck her as many as thirty times, I
stopped, and turned round toward Epps, hoping he
was satisried ; but with bitter oaths and threats, he
ordered me to continue. I inflicted ten or fifteen
blows more. By this time her back was covered with
long welts, intersecting each other like net work.
Epps was yet furious and savage as ever, demanding
THE STAKING OUT AXD FLOGGING OF THE GIRL PATSEY
FLAYING OF PATSEY. 257
if she would like to go to Shaw's again, and swear-
ing he would flog her until she wished she was in h — I.
Throwing down the whip, I declared I could punish
her no more. He ordered me to go on, threatening
me with a severer flogging than she had received, in
ease of refusal. My heart revolted at the inhuman
scene, and risking the consequences, I absolutely re-
fused to raise the whip. He then seized it himself,
and applied it with ten-fold greater force than I had.
The painful cries and shrieks of the tortured Patsey,
mingling with the loud and angry curses of Epps,
loaded the air. She was terribly lacerated — I may
say, without exaggeration, literally flayed. The
lash was wet with blood, which flowed down her
sides and dropped upon the ground. At length she
ceased struggling. Her head sank listlessly on the
ground. Her screams and supplications gradually
decreased and died away into a low moan. She no
longer writhed and shrank beneath the lash when it bit
out small pieces of her flesh. I thought that she was
It was the Sabbath of the Lord. The fields smiled
in the warm sunlight — the birds chirped merrily
amidst the foliage of the trees — peace and happiness
seemed to reign everywhere, save in the bosoms of
Epps and his panting victim and the silent witnesses
around him. The tempestuous emotions that were
raging there were little in harmony with the calm
and quiet beauty of the day. I could look on Epps
only with unutterable loathing and abhorrence, and
258 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
thought within myself — " Thou devil, sooner or later,
somewhere in the course of eternal justice, thou shalt
answer for this sin ! "
Finally, he ceased whipping from mere exhaustion,
and ordered Phebe to bring a bucket of salt and wa-
ter. After washing her thoroughly with this, I was
told to take her to her cabin. Untying the ropes, I
raised her in my arms. She was unable to stand, and
as her head rested on my shoulder, she repeated ma-
ny times, in a faint voice scarcely perceptible, " Oh,
Piatt — oh, Piatt !" but nothing further. Her dress
was replaced, but it clung to her back, and was soon
stiff with blood. We laid her on some boards in the
hut, where she remained a long time, with eyes closed
and groaning in agony. At night Phebe applied
melted tallow to her wounds, and so far as we were
able, all endeavored to assist and console her. Day
after day she lay in her cabin upon her face, the sores
preventing her resting in any other position.
A blessed thing it would have been for her — days
and weeks and months of misery it would have saved
her — had she never lifted up her head in life again.
Indeed, from that time forward she was not what she
had been. The burden of a deep melancholy weigh-
ed heavily on her spirits. She no longer moved with
that buoyant and elastic step — there was not that
mirthful sparkle in her eyes that formerly distin-
guished her. The bounding vigor — the sprightly,
laughter-loving spirit of her youth, were gone. She
fell into a mournful and desponding mood, and often-
patsey's idea of god, &c. 259
times would start up in her sleep, and with raised
hands, plead for mercy. She became more silent
than she was, toiling all day in our midst, not uttering
a word. A care-worn, pitiful expression settled on
her face, and it was her humor now to weep, rather
than rejoice. If ever there was a broken heart —
one crushed and blighted by the rude grasp of suffer-
ing and misfortune — it was Patsey's.
She had been reared no better than her master's v
beast — 'looked upon merely as a valuable and hand-
some animal — and consequently possessed but a.lim-
ited amount of knowledge. And yet a faint light
cast its rays over her intellect, so that it was not
wholly dark. She had a dim perception of God and
of eternity, and a still more dim perception of a Sav-
iour who had died even for such as her. She enter
tained but confused notions of a future life — not com-
prehending the distinction between the corporeal and
spiritual existence. Happiness, in her mind, was ex-
emption from stripes — from labor — from the cruelty
of masters and overseers. Her idea of the joy of
heaven was simply rest, and is fully expressed in these
lines of a melancholy bard :
" I ask no paradise on high,
With cares on earth oppressed,
The only heaven for which I sigh,
Is rest, eternal rest."
It is a mistaken opinion that prevails in some quar-
ters, that the slave does not understand the term —
does not comprehend the idea of freedom. Even on
260 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
Bayou Bosuf, where I conceive slavery exists in its
most abject and cruel form — where it exhibits fea-
tures altogether unknown in more northern States — ■
the most ignorant of them generally know full well
its meaning. They understand the privileges and
exemptions that belong to it — that it would bestow
upon them the fruits of their own labors, and that it
would secure to them the enjoyment of domestic hap-
piness. They do not fail to observe the difference
between their own condition and the meanest white
man's, and to realize the injustice of the laws which
place it in his power not only to appropriate the
profits of their industry, but to subject them to un-
merited and unprovoked punishment, without reme-
dy, or the right to resist, or to remonstrate.
Patsey's life, especially after her whipping, was one
long dream of liberty. Far away, to her fancy an
immeasurable distance, she knew there was a land of
freedom. A thousand times she had, heard that
somewhere in the distant North there were no
slaves — no masters. In her imagination it was an
enchanted region, the Paradise of the earth. To dwell
where the black man may work for himself — live in
his own cabin — till his own soil, was a blissful dream
of Patsey's — a dream, alas ! the fulfillment of which
she can never realize.
The effect of these exhibitions of brutality on the
household of the slave-holder, is apparent. Epps'
oldest son is an intelligent lad of ten or twelve years
of age. It is pitiable, sometimes, to see him chas-
EPPS' OLDEST SON. 261
tising, for instance, the venerable Uncle Abram. He
will call the old man to account, and if in his child-
ish judgment it is necessary, sentence him to a cer-
tain number of lashes, which he proceeds to inflict
with much gravity and deliberation. Mounted on his
pony, he often rides into the field with his whip, play-
ing the overseer, greatly to his father's delight.
Without discrimination, at such times, he applies the
rawhide, urging the slaves forward with shouts, and
occasional expressions of profanity, while the old man
laughs, and commends him as a thorough-going boy.
" The child is father to the man," and with such
training, whatever may be his natural disposition, it
cannot well be otherwise than that, on arriving at ma-
turity, the sufferings and miseries of the slave will
be looked upon with entire indifference. The influ-
ence of the iniquitous system necessarily fosters an
unfeeling and cruel spirit, even in the bosoms of those
who, among their equals, are regarded as humane
Young Master Epps possessed some noble qualities,
yet no process of reasoning could lead him to com-
prehend, that in the eye of the Almighty there is no
distinction of color. He looked upon the black man
simply as an animal, differing in no respect from any
other animal, save in the gift of speech and the pos-
session of somewhat higher instincts, and, therefore,
the more valuable. To work like his father's mules —
to be whipped and kicked and scourged through life —
to address the white man with hat in hand, and eyes
262 TWELVE YEAES A SLAVE.
bent servilely on the earth, in his mind, was the natu-
ral and proper destiny of the slave. Brought up with
such ideas — in the notion that we stand without the
pale of humanity — no wonder the oppressors of my
people are a pitiless and unrelenting race.
AVERY, OF BAYOU EOUGE PECULIARITY OF DWELLINGS EPPS BUILDS A
NEW HOUSE BASS, THE CARPENTER HIS NOBLE QUALITIES HIS PFE-
SONAL APPEAEANCE AND ECCENTRICITIES BASS AND EPPS DISCUSS THE
QUESTION OF SLAVEEY EPPS' OPINION OF BASS 1 MAKE MYSELF
KNOWN TO HTM OUR CONVERSATION HIS SUP>PRISE THE MIDNIGHT
MEETING ON THE BAYOU BANK BASS' ASSURANCES DECLARES WAR
AGAINST SLAVERY WHY I DID NOT DISCLOSE MY HISTORY BASS WRITES
LETTERS COPY OF HIS LETTER TO MESSES. PAEKEE AND PEERY THE
FEVER OF SUSPENSE DISAPPOINTMENTS BASS ENDEAVORS TO CHEER
ME MY FAITH IN HIM.
In the month of June, 1852, in pursuance of a pre-
vious contract, Mr. Avery, a carpenter of Bayou
Rouge, commenced the erection of a house for Mas-
ter Epps. It has previously been stated that there
are no cellars on Bayou Boauf ; on the other hand,
such is the low and swampy nature of the ground,
the great houses are usually built upon spiles. An-
other peculiarity is, the rooms are not plastered, but
the ceiling and sides are covered with matched cy-
press boards, painted such color as most pleases the
owner's taste. Generally the plank and boards are
sawed by slaves with whip-saws, there being no water-
power upon which mills might be built within many
miles. "When the planter erects for himself a dwel-
ling, therefore, there is plenty of extra work for his
264 TWELVE YEAK9 A SLATE.
slaves. Having had some experience under Tibeats
as a carpenter, I was taken from the field altogether,
on the arrival of Avery and his hands.
. Among them was one to whom I owe an immeas-
urable debt of gratitude. Only for him, in all prob-
ability, I should have ended my days in slavery. He
was my deliverer — a man whose true heart over-
flowed with noble and generous emotions. To the
last moment of my existence I shall remember him
with feelings of thankfulness. His name was Bass,
and at that time he resided in Marksville. It will
be difficult to convey a correct impression of his ap-
pearance or character. He was a large man, between
forty and fifty years old, of light complexion and
light hair. He was very cool and self-possessed, fond
of argument, but always speaking with extreme de-
liberation. He was that kind of person whose pecu-
liarity of manner was such that nothing he uttered
ever gave offence. "What would be intolerable, com-
ing from the lips of another, could be said by him
with impunity. There was not a man on Red River,
perhaps, that agreed with him on the subject of poli-
tics or religion, and not a man, I venture to say, who
discussed either of those subjects half as much. It
seemed to be taken for granted that he would espouse
the unpopular side of every local question, and it al-
ways created amusement rather than displeasure
among his auditors, to listen to the ingenious and
original manner in which he maintained the contro-
versy. He was a bachelor — an " old bachelor," ac-
BASS, THE CAKPENTEK. 265
cording to the true acceptation of the term — having
no kindred living, as he knew of, in the world. Nei-
ther had he any permanent abiding place ■ — wander-
ing frcm one State to another, as his fancy dictated.
He had lived in Marksville three or four years, and
in the prosecution of his business as a carpenter ; and
in consequence, likewise, of his peculiarities, was
quite extensively known throughout the parish of
Avoyelles. He was liberal to a fault ; and his many
acts of kindness and transparent goodness of heart
rendered him popular in the community, the senti-
ment of which he unceasingly combated.
He was a native of Canada, from whence he had
wandered in early life, and after visiting all the prin-
cipal localities in the northern and western States, in
the course of his peregrinations, arrived in the un-
healthy region of the Red River. His last removal
was froni Illinois. Whither he has now gone, I re-
gret to be obliged to say, is unknown to me. He
gathered up his effects and departed quietly from
Marksville the day before I did, the suspicions of his
instrumentality in procuring my liberation rendering
such a step necessary. For the commission of a just
and righteous act he would undoubtedly have suffer-
ed death, had he remained within reach of the slave-
whipping tribe on Bayou Bceuf.
One day, while working on the new house, Bass
and Epps became engaged in a controversy, to which,
as will be readily supposed, I listened with absorbing
interest. They were discussing the subj ect of Slavery.
266 TWELVE YEARS A SLATE.
" I tell you what it is Epps," said Bass, " it's all
wrong — all wrong, sir — there's no justice nor right-
eousness in it. I wouldn't own a slave if I was rich
as Crcesus, which I am not, as is perfectly well under-
stood, more particularly among my creditors. There's
another humbug — the credit system — humbug, sir ;
no credit — no debt. Credit leads a man into tempta-
tion. Cash down is the only thing that will deliver
him from evil. But this question of Slavery • what
right have you to your niggers when you come down
to the point ? "
" What right ! " said Epps, laughing ; " why, I
bought 'em, and paid for 'em."
Of course you did ; the law says you have the right
to hold a nigger, but begging the law's pardon, it
lies. Yes, Epps, when the law says that it's a liar,
and the truth is not in it. Is every thing right be-
cause the law allows it ? Suppose they'd pass a law
taking away your liberty and making you a slave ?"
" Oh, that ain't a supposable case," said Epps, still
laughing ; " hope you don't compare me to a nigger,
" "Well," Bass answered gravely, " no, not exactly.
But I have seen niggers before now as good as I am,
and I have no acquaintance with any white man in
these parts that I consider a whit better than myself.
Now, in the sight of God, what is the difference,
Epps,. between a white man and a black one ?"
" All the difference in the world," replied Epps.
<: You might as well ask what the difference is be-
DISCUSSION ON SLAVERY. 267
tween a white man and a baboon. Now, I've seen
one of them critters in Orleans that knowed just as
mich as any nigger I've got. Yon'd call them feller
citizens, I s'pose % " — and Epps indulged in a loud
laugh at his own wit.
" Look here, Epps," continued his companion ; " you
can't laugh me down in that way. Some men are
witty, and some ain't so witty as they think they are.
Now let me ask you a question. Are all men created
free and equal as the Declaration of Independence
holds they are ? "
" Yes," responded Epps, " but all men, niggers, and
monkeys ain't ; " and hereupon he broke forth into a
more boisterous laugh than before.
" There are monkeys among white people as well
as black, when you come to that," coolly remarked
Bass. "I know some white men that use arguments
no sensible monkey would. But let that pass. These
niggers are human beings. If they don't know as
much as their masters, whose fault is it ? They are
not allowed to know anything. You have books and
papers, and can go where you please, and gather
intelligence in a thousand ways. But your slaves
have no privileges. You'd whip one of them if
caught reading a book. They are held in bondage,
generation after generation, deprived of mental im-
provement, and who can expect them to possess much
knowledge ? If they are not brought down to a level
with the brute creation, you slaveholders will never
be blamed for it. If they are baboons, or stand no
268 TWELVE YEAES A SLAVE.
higher in the scale of intelligence than such animals,
yon and men like you will have to answer for it.
There's a sin, a fearful sin, resting on this nation, thai
will not go unpunished forever. There will be a
reckoning yet — yes, Epps, there's a clay coming that
will burn as an oven. It may be sooner or it may be
later, but it's a coming as sure as the Lord is just."
" If you lived up among the Yankees in New-
England," said Ej3ps, " I expect you'd be one of them
cursed fanatics that know more than the constitution,
and go about peddling clocks and coaxing niggers
to run away."
" If I was in New-England," returned Bass, " I
would be just what I am here. I would say that
Slavery was an iniquity, and ought to be abolished.
I would say there was no reason nor justice in the
law, or the constitution that allows one man to hold
another man in bondage. It would be hard for you
to lose your property, to be sure, but it wouldn't be
half as hard as it would be to lose your liberty. You
have no more right to your freedom, in exact justice,
than Uncle Abram yonder. Talk about black skin,
and black blood ; why, how many slaves are there on
this bayou as white as either of us ? And what dif-
ference is there in the color of the soul ? Pshaw ! the
whole system is as absurd as it is cruel. You may
own niggers and behanged, but I wouldn't own one
for the best plantation in Louisiana."
" You like to hear yourself talk, Bass, better than
any man I know of. You would argue that black was
CONVERSATION WITH BASS. 269
white, or white black, if any body would contradict
you. Nothing suits you in this world, and I don't
believe you will be satisfied with the next, if you
should have your choice in them."
Conversations substantially like the foregoing were
not unusual between the two after this ; Epps drawing
him out more for the purpose of creating a laugh at
his expense, than with a view of fairly discussing the
merits of the question. He looked upon Bass, as a
man ready to say anything merely for the pleasure of
hearing his own voice ; as somewhat self-conceited,
perhaps, contending against his faith and judgment,
in order, simply, to exhibit his dexterity in argumen-
He remained at Epps' through the summer, visiting
Marksville generally once a fortnight. The more I
saw of him, the more I became convinced he was a
man in whom I could confide. Nevertheless, my
previous ill-fortune had taught me to be extremely
cautious. It was not my place to speak to a white
man except when spoken to, but I omitted no oppor-
tunity of throwing myself in his way, and endeavored
constantly in every possible manner to attract his
attention. In the early part of August he and my-
self were at work alone in the house, the other car-
penters having left, and Epps being absent in the
field. Now was the time, if ever, to broach the sub-
ject, and I resolved to do it, and submit to whatever
consequences might ensue. We were busily at work
in the afternoon, when I stopped suddenly and said — ■
270 TWELVE TEAKS A SLAVE.
" Master Bass, I want to ask you what part of the
country you came from ?"
" "Why, Piatt, what put that into your head ? " he
answered. " You wouldn't know if I should tell you."
After a moment or two he added — "I was born in
Canada ; now guess where that is."
" Oh, I know where Canada is," said I, "I have
been there myself."
" Yes, I expect you are well acquainted all through
that country," he remarked, laughing incredulously.
"As sure as I live, Master Bass," I replied, " I have
been there. I have been in Montreal and Kingston,
and Queenston, and a great many places in Canada,
and I have been in York State, too — in Buffalo, and
Rochester, and Albany, and can tell you the names
of the villages on the Erie canal and the Champlain
Bass turned round and gazed at me a long time
without uttering a syllable.
"How came you here?" he inquired, at length,
"Master Bass," I answered, "if justice had been
done, I never would have been here."
" "Well, how's this ? " said he. " Who are you ? You
have been in Canada sure enough ; I know all the
places you mention. How did you happen to get
here ? Come, tell me all about it."
" I have no friends here," was my reply, " that I
can put confidence in. I am afraid to tell you,
though I don't believe you would tell Master Epps if
bass' assurances. 271
He assured me earnestly he would keep every word
I might speak to him a profound secret, and his curi-
osity was evidently strongly excited. It was a long
story, I informed him, and would take some time to
relate it. Master Epps would be back soon, but if he
would see me that night after all were asleep, I would
repeat it to him. He consented readily to the ar-
rangement, and directed me to come into the building
where we were then at work, and I would find him
there. About midnight, when all was still and quiet,
I crept cautiously from my cabin, and silently enter-
ing the unfinished building, found him awaiting me.
After further assurances on his part that I should
not be betrayed, I began a relation of the history of
my life and misfortunes. He was deeply interested,
asking numerous questions in reference to localities
and events. Having ended my story I besought him
to write to some of my friends at the North, acquaint-
ing them with my situation, and begging them to for-
ward free papers, or take such steps as they might
consider proper to secure my release. He promised
to do so, but dwelt upon the danger of such an act in
case of detection, and now impressed upon me the
great necessity of strict silence and secresy. Before
we parted our plan of operation was arranged.
"We agreed to meet the next night at a specified
place among the high weeds on the bank of the bayou,
some distance from master's dwelling. There he was
to write down on paper the names and address of sev-
eral persons, old friends in the North, to whom he
272 TWELVE TEAKS A SLAVE.
would direct letters during his next visit to Marks-
ville. It was not deemed prudent to meet in the new
house, inasmuch as the light it would be necessary to
use might possibly be discovered. In the course of
the day I managed to obtain a few matches and a
piece of candle, unperceivecl, from the kitchen, during
a temporary absence of Aunt Phebe. Bass had pen-
cil and paper in his tool chest.
At the appointed hour we met on the bayou bank,
and creeping among the high weeds, I lighted the
candle, while he drew forth pencil and paper and pre-
pared for business. I gave him the names of Wil-
liam Perry, Cephas Parker and Judge Marvin, all of
Saratoga Springs, Saratoga county, New- York. I had
been employed by the latter in the United States
Hotel, and had transacted business with the former to
a considerable extent, and trusted that at least one of
them would be still living at that place. He care-
fully wrote the names, and then remarked, thought-
"It is so many years since you left Saratoga, all
these men may be dead, or may have removed. You
say you obtained papers at the custom house in ISTew-
York. Probably there is a record of them there, and
I think it would be well to write and ascertain."
I agreed with him, and again repeated the circum
stances related heretofore, Connected with my visit tz
the custom house with Brown and Hamilton. We
lingered on the bank of the bayou an hour or more,
conversing upon the subject which now engrossed our
MY FAITH m BASS, 273
thoughts. I could no longer doubt his fidelity, and
freely spoke to him of the many sorrows I had borne
in silence, and so long. I spoke of my wife and chil-
dren, mentioning their names and ages, and dwelling
upon the unspeakable happiness it would be to clasp
them to my heart once more before I died. I caught
him by the hand, and with tears and passionate en-
treaties implored him to befriend me — to restore me
to my kindred and to liberty — promising I would weary
Heaven the remainder of my life with prayers that it
would bless and prosper him. In the enjoyment of
freedom — surrounded by the associations of youth,
and restored to the bosom of my family — that prom-
ise is not yet forgotten, nor shall it ever be so long as
I have strength to raise my imploring eyes on high.
" Oh, blessings on his kindly voice and on his silver hair,
And blessings on his whole life long, until he meet me there."
He overwhelmed me with assurances of friendship
and faithfulness, saying he had never before taken so
deep an interest in the fate of any one. He spoke of
himself in a somewhat mournful tone, as a lonely
man, a wanderer about the world — that he was
growing, old, and must soon reach the end of his
earthly journey, and lie down to his final rest with-
out kith or kin to mourn for him, or to remember
him — that his life was of little value to himself, and
henceforth should be devoted to the accomplishment
of my liberty, and to an unceasing warfare against
the accursed shame of Slavery.
£74 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
After this time we seldom spoke to, or recognized
each other. He was, moreover, less free in his con-
versation with Epps on the subject of Slavery. The
remotest suspicion that there was any unusual intima-
cy — any secret understanding between us — never
once entered the mind of Epps, or any other person,
white or black, on the plantation.
I am often asked, with an air of incredulity, how I
succeeded so many years in keeping from my daily
and constant companions the knowledge of my true
name and history. The terrible lesson Burch taught
me, impressed indelibly upon my mind the danger
and uselessness of asserting I was a freeman. There
was no possibility of any slave being able to assist
me, while, on the other hand, there was a possibility
of his exposing me. When it is recollected the whole
current of my thoughts, for twelve years, turned to the
contemplation of escape, it will not be wondered at,
that I was always cautious and on my guard. It
woidd have been an act of folly to have proclaimed
my right to freedom ; it would only have subjected
me to severer scrutiny — probably have consigned me
to some more distant and inaccessible region than
even Bayou Bceuf. Edwin Epps was a person utter-
ly regardless of a black man's rights or wrongs — ut-
terly destitute of any natural sense of justice, as 1
well knew. It was important, therefore, not only as
regarded my hope of deliverance, but also as regard-
ed the few personal priviliges I was permitted to en-
joy, to keep from him the history of my life.
LETTER TO PEEEY AJSTD PAEKEE. 2T5
The Saturday night subsequent to our interview at
the water's edge, Bass went home to Marksville. The
next day, being Sunday, he employed himself in his
own room writing letters. One he directed to the
Collector of Customs at J^ew-Youk, another to Judge
Marvin, and another to Messrs. Parker and Perry joint-
ly. The latter was the one which led to my recovery.
He subscribed my true name, but in the postscript in-
timated I was not the writer. The letter itself shows
that he considered himself engaged in a dangerous
undertaking — no less than running "the risk of his
life, if detected." I did not see the letter before it was
mailed, but have since obtained a copy, which is here
" Bayou Boeuf, August 15, 1852.
" Mr. William Perry or Mr. Cephas Parker :
" Gentlemen — It having been a long time since I have seen
or heard from you, and not knowing that you are living, it is
with uncertainty that I write to you, but the necessity of the
case must be my excuse.
" Having been born free, just across the river from you, I am.
certain you must know me, and I am here now a slave. I wish
you to obtain free papers for me, and forward them to me at
Marksville, Louisiana, Parish of Avoyelles, and oblige
"Yours, SOLOMON NORTHUP.
" The way I came to be a slave, I was taken sick in Washing-
ton City, and was insensible for some time. When I recover-
ed my reason, I was robbed of my free-papers, and in irons on
my way to this State, and have never been able to get any one
to write for me until now ; and he that is writing for me runs
the risk of his life if detected."
276 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
The allusion to myself in the work recently issued,
entitled " A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin," contains the
first part of this letter, omitting the postscript. Nei-
ther are the full names of the gentlemen to whom it
is directed correctly stated, there being a slight dis-
crepancy, probably a typographical error. To the
postscript more than to the body of the communica-
tion am I indebted for my liberation, as will present-
ly be seen.
When Bass returned from Marksville he informed
me of what he had done. We continued our mid-
night consultations, never speaking to each other
through the day, excepting as it was necessary about
the work. As nearly as he was able to ascertain, it
would require two weeks for the letter to reach Sara-
toga in due course of mail, and the same length of
time for an answer to return. Within six weeks, at
the farthest, we concluded, an answer would arrive, if
it arrived at all. A great many suggestions were
now made, and a great deal of conversation took place
between us, as to the most safe and proper course to
pursue on receipt of the free papers. They would
stand between him and harm, in case we were over-
taken and arrested leaving the country altogether. It
would be no infringement of law, however much it
might provoke individual hostility, to assist a freeman
to regain his freedom.
At the end of four weeks he was again at Marks-
ville, but no answer had arrived. I was sorely disap-
pointed, but still reconciled myself with the reflection
BASS EXDEAVOES TO CHEER ME- 277
that sufficient length, of time had not yet elapsed —
that there might have been delays — and that I could
not reasonably expect one so soon. Six, seven, eight,
and ten weeks passed by, however, and nothing came.
I was in a fever of suspense whenever Bass visited
Marksville, and could scarcely close my eyes until his
return. Finally my master's house was finished, and
the time came when Bass must leave me. The night
before his departure I was wholly given up to despair.
I had clung to him as a drowning man clings to the
floating spar, knowing if it slips from his grasp he
must forever sink beneath the waves. The all-glorious
hope, upon which I had laid such eager hold, was
crumbling to ashes in my hands. I felt as if sinking
down, down, amidst the bitter waters of Slavery, from
the unfathomable depths of which I should never
The generous heart of my friend and benefactor was
touched with pity at the sight of my distress. He en-
deavored to cheer me up, promising to return the day
before Christmas, and if no intelligence was received
in the meantime, some further step would be under-
taken to effect our design. He exhorted me to keep
up my spirits — to rely upon^his continued efforts in
my behalf, assuring me, in most earnest and impres-
sive language, that my liberation should, from thence-
forth, be the chief object of his thoughts.
In his absence the time passed slowly indeed. I
looked forward to Christmas with intense anxiety and
impatience. I had about given up the expectation of
278 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
receiving any answer to the letters. They might have
miscarried, or might have been misdirected. Perhaps
those at Saratoga, to whom they had been addressed,
were all dead ; perhaps, engaged in their pursuits,
they did not consider the fate of an obscure, unhappy
black man of sufficient importance to be noticed. My
whole reliance was in Bass. The faith I had in him
was continually re-assuring me, and enabled me to
stand up against the tide of disappointment that had
So wholly was I absorbed in reflecting upon my sit-
uation and prospects, that the hands with whom I la-
bored in the field often observed it. Patsey would
ask me if I was sick, and Uncle Abram, and Bob, and
"Wiley frequently expressed a curiosity to know what
I could be thinking about so steadily. But I evaded
their inquiries with some light remark, and kept my
thoughts locked closely in my breast.
BASS FAITHFUL TO HIS WORD HIS ARRIVAL ON CHRISTMAS EVE THE DIF-
FICULTY OF OBTAINING AN INTERVIEW THE MEETING IN THE CABIN
NON- ARRIVAL OF THE LETTER BASS ANNOUNCES HIS INTENTION TO PRO-
CEED NORTH CHRISTMAS CONVERSATION BETWEEN EPPS AND BASS
YOUNG MISTRESS m'cOY, THE BEAUTY OF BAYOU BCEUF THE "NE PLUS
ULTRA" OF DINNERS MUSIC AND DANCING PRESENCE OF THE MISTRESS
HER EXCEEDING BEAUTY THE LAST SLAVE DANCE WILLIAM PIERCE
OVERSLEEP MYSELF THE LAST WHIPPING DESPONDENCY THE COLD
MORNING EPPS' THREATS THE PASSING CARRIAGE STRANGERS AP-
PROACHING THROUGH THE COTTON-FIELD LAST HOUR ON BAYOU BCEUF.
Faithful to his word, the day before Christmas, just
at night-fall, Bass came riding into the yard.
"How are you," said Epps, shaking him by the
hand, " glad to see you."
He would not have been very glad had he known
the object of his errand.
"Quite well, quite well," answered Bass. "Had
some business out on the bayou, and concluded to call
and see you, and stay over night."
Epps ordered one of the slaves to take charge of
his horse, and with much talk and laughter they pass-
ed into the house together ; not, however, until Bass
bad looked at me significantly, as much as to say,
2S0 TWELVE TEAES A SLAVE.
" Keep dark, we understand each other." It was ten
o'clock at night before the labors of the day were per-
formed, when I entered the cabin. At that time Un-
cle Abram and Bob occupied it with me. I laid
down upon my board and feigned I was asleep.
When my companions had fallen into a profound
slumber, I moved stealthily out of the door, and watch-
ed, and listened attentively for some sign or sound
from Bass. There I stood until long after midnight,
but nothing could be seen or heard. As I suspected,
he dared not leave the house, through fear of exciting
the suspicion of some of the family. I judged, correct-
y, he would rise earlier than was his custom, and
take the opportunity of seeing me before Epps was
up. Accordingly I aroused Uncle Abram an horn*
sooner than usual, and sent him into the house to build
a fire, which, at that season of the year, is a part of
Uncle Abram's duties.
I also gave Bob a violent shake, and asked him if
he intended to sleep till noon, saying master would be
up before the mules were fed. He knew right well
the consequence that would follow such an event, and,
jumping to his feet, was at the horse-pasture in a
Presently, when both were gone, Bass slipped into
" No letter yet, Piatt," said he. The announce-
ment fell upon my heart like lead.
" Oh, do write again, Master Bass," I cried ; " I
will give you the names of a great many I know.
THE MEETING TN THE CABIN. 281
Surely they are not all dead. Surely some one will
" ]STo use," Bass replied, "no use. I have made up
my mind to that. I fear the Marksville post-master
will mistrust something, I have inquired so often at
his office. Too uncertain — too dangerous."
" Then it is all over," I exclaimed. " Oh, my God,
how can I end my days here !"
" You're not going to end them here," he said, " un-
less you die very soon. I've thought this matter all
over, and have come to a determination. There are
more ways than one to manage this business, and a
better and surer way than writing letters. I have a
job or two on hand which can be completed by March
or April. By that time I shall have a considerable
sum of money, and then, Piatt, I am going to Sarato-
I could scarcely credit my own senses as the words
fell from his lips. But he assured me, in a manner
that left no doubt of the sincerity of his intention, that
if his life was spared until spring, he should certainly
undertake the journey.
" I have lived in this region long enough," he con-
tinued ; " I may as well be in one place as another.
For a long time I have been thinking of going back
once more to the place where I was born. I'm tired
of Slavery as well as you. If I can succeed in getting
you away from here, it will be a good act that I shall
like to think of all my life. And I shall succeed,
282 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
Piatt ; I'm hound to do it. Now let me tell you what
I want. Epps will be up soon, and it won't do to be
caught here. Think of a great many men at Sarato-
ga and Sandy Hill, and in that neighborhood, who
once knew you. I shall make excuse to come here
again in the course of the winter, when I will write
down their names. I will then know who to call on
when I go north. Think of all you can. Cheer up !
Don't be discouraged. I'm with you, life or death.
Good-bye. God bless you," and saying this he left
the cabin quickly, and entered the great house.
It was Christmas morning — the happiest day in the
whole year for the slave. That morning he need not
hurry to the field, with his gourd and cotton-bag.
Happiness sparkled in the eyes and overspread the
countenances of all. The time of feasting and dancing
had come. The cane and cotton fields were deserted.
That day the clean dress was t® be donned — the red
ribbon displayed ; there were to be re-unions, and
joy and laughter, and hurrying to and fro. It was
to be a day of liberty among the children of Slavery.
Wherefore they were happy, and rejoiced.
After breakfast Epps and Bass sauntered about the
yard, conversing upon the price of cotton, and va-
rious other topics.
"Where do your niggers hold Christmas ?" Bass in-
"Piatt is going to Tanners to-day. His fiddle is
in great demand. They want him at Marshall's Mon-
ErPS' COVEKSATTON WITH BASS. 283
day, and Miss Maiy McCoy, on tlie old Norwood
plantation, writes me a note that she wants him to
play for her niggers Tuesday."
" He is rather a smart boy, ain't he ?" said Bass.
" Come here, Piatt," he added, looking at me as I
walked up to them, as if he had never thought before
to take any special notice of me.
" Yes," replied Epps, taking hold of my arm and
feeling it, " there isn't a bad joint in him. There ain't
a boy on the bayou worth more than he is — perfect-
ly sound, and no bad tricks. D — n him, he isn't like
other niggers ; doesn't look like 'em — don't act like
'em. I was offered seventeen hundred dollars for him
" And didn't take it ?" Bass inquired, with an air
" Take it — no ; devilish clear of it. Why, he's a
reg'lar genius ; can make a plough beam, wagon
tongue — anything, as well as you can. Marshall
wanted to put up one of his niggers agin him and raf-
fle for them, but I told him I would see the devil have
" I don't see anything remarkable about him," Bass
" "Why, just feel of him, now," Epps rejoined.
" You don't see a boy very often put together any
closer than he is. He's a thin-skin'd cuss, and won't
bear as much whipping as some ; but he's got the
muscle in him, and no mistake.
Bass felt of me, turned me round, and made a
284: TWELVE TEAKS A SLAVE.
thorough examination, Epps all the while dwelling on
my good points. But his visitor seemed to take but
little interest finally in the subject, and consequently
it was dropped. Bass soon departed, giving me an-
other sly look of recognition and significance, as he
trotted out of the yard.
When he was gone I obtained a pass, and started
for Tanner's — not Peter Tanner's, of whom mention
has previously been made, but a relative of his. I
played during the day and most of the night, spend-
ing the next day, Sunday, in my cabin. Monday I
crossed the bayou to Douglas Marshall's, all Epps'
slaves accompanying me, and on Tuesday went to the
old Norwood place, which is the third plantation
above Marshall's, on the same side of the water.
This estate is now owned hj Miss Mary McCoy, a
lovely girl, some twenty years of age. She is the beau-
ty and the glory of Bayou Bceuf. She owns about a
hundred working hands, besides a great many house
servants, yard boys, and young children. Her broth-
er-in-law, who resides on the adjoining estate, is her
general agent. She is beloved by all her slaves, and
good reason indeed have they to be thankful that they
have fallen into such gentle hands. Nowhere on the
bayou are there such feasts, such merrymaking, as at
young Madam McCoy's. Thither, more than to any
other place, do the old and the young for miles around
love to repair in the time of the Christmas holidays ;
for nowhere else can they find such delicious repasts ;
nowhere else can they hear a voice speaking to them
CHRISTMAS DINNER. 285
bo pleasantly. ISTo one is so well beloved — no one
fills so large a space in the hearts of a thousand slaves,
as young Madam McCoy, the orphan mistress of the
old Norwood estate.
On my arrival at her place, I found two or three
hundred had assembled. The table was prepared in
a long building, which she had erected expressly for
her slaves to dance in. It was covered with every
variety of food the country afforded, and was pro-
nounced by general acclamation to be the rarest of
dinners. Roast turkey, pig, chicken, duck, and all
kinds of meat, baked, boiled, and broiled, formed a
line the whole length of the extended table, while the
vacant spaces were filled with tarts, jellies, and frost-
ed cake, and pastry of many kinds. The young mis-
tress walked around the table, smiling and saying a
kind word to each one, and seemed to enjoy the scene
When the dinner was over the tables were remov-
ed to make room for the dancers. I tuned my violin
and struck up a lively air ; while some joined in a
nimble reel, others patted and sang their simple but
melodious songs, filling the great room with music
mingled with the sound of human voices and the clat-
ter of many feet.
In the evening the mistress returned, and stood in
the door a long time, looking at us. She was magnifi-
cently arrayed Her dark hair and eyes contrasted
strongly with her clear and delicate complexion.
Her form was slender but commanding, and her
286 TWELVE TEAES A SLAVE.
movement was a combination of unaffected dignity
and grace. As she stood there, clad in her rich ap-
parel, her face animated with pleasure, I thought I had
never looked upon a human being half so beautiful.
I dwell with delight upon the description of this fair
and gentle lady, not only because she inspired me
with emotions of gratitude and admiration, but be-
cause I would have the reader understand that all
slave-owners on Bayou Bceuf are not like Epps, or
Tibeats, or Jim Burns. Occasionally can be found,
rarely it may be, indeed, a good man like "William
Ford, or an angel of kindness like young Mistress
Tuesday concluded the three holidays Epps yearly
allowed us. On my way home, Wednesday morning,
while passing the plantation of William Pierce, that
gentleman hailed me, saying he had received a line
from Epps, brought down by William Yarnell, per-
mitting him to detain me for the purpose of playing
for his slaves that night. It was the last time I was
destined to witness a slave dance on the shores of Ba-
you Bceuf. The party at Pierce's continued their jol-
lification until broad daylight, when I returned to my
master's house, somewhat wearied with the loss of
rest, but rejoicing in the possession of numerous bits
and picayunes, which the whites, who were pleased
with my musical performances, had contributed.
On Saturday morning, for the first time in years, I
overslept myself. I was frightened on coming out of
the cabin to find the slaves were already in the field.
THE LAST WHIPPING. 287
They had preceded me some fifteen minutes. Leav-
ing my dinner and water-gourd, I hurried after them
as fast as I could move. It was not yet sunrise, but
Epps was on the piazza as I left the hut, and cried out
to me that it was a pretty time of day to be getting
up. By extra exertion my row was up when he came
out after breakfast. This, however, was no excuse for
the offence of oversleeping. Bidding me strip and lie
down, he gave me ten or fifteen lashes, at the conclu-
sion of which he inquired if I thought, after that, I
could get up sometime in the morning. I expressed
myself quite positively that I could, and, with back
stinging with pain, went about my work.
The following day, Sunday, my thoughts were upon
Bass, and the probabilities and hopes which hung
upon his action and determination. I considered the
uncertainty of life ; that if it should be the will of
God that he should die, my prospect of deliverance, and
all expectation of happiness in this world, would be
wholly ended and destroyed. My sore back, perhaps,
did not have a tendency to render me unusually cheer-
ful. I felt down-hearted and unhappy all day long,
and when I laid down upon the hard board at night,
my heart was oppressed with such a load of grief, it
seemed that it must break.
Monday morning, the third of January, 1853, we
were in the field betimes. It was a raw, cold morn-
ing, such as is unusual in that region. I was in ad-
vance, Uncle Abram next to me, behind him Bob,
Patsey and Wiley, with our cotton-bags about our
288 TWELVE TEARS A SLAVE.
necks. Epps happened (a rare thing, indeed,) to come
out that morning without his whip. He swore, in a
manner that would shame a pirate, that we were do-
ing nothing. Bob ventured to say that his fingers
were so numb with cold he couldn't pick fast. Epps
cursed himself for not having brought his rawhide,
and declared that when he came out again he would
warm us well ; yes, he would make us all hotter than
that fiery realm in which I am sometimes compelled
to believe he will himself eventually reside.
"With these fervent expressions, he left us. "When
out of hearing, we commenced talking to each other,
saying how hard it was to be compelled to keep up
our tasks with numb fingers ; how unreasonable mas-
ter was, and speaking of him generally in no flatter-
ing terms. Our conversation was interrupted by a
carriage passing rapidly towards the house. Looking
up, we saw two men approaching us through the cot-
Having now brought down this narrative to the last
hour I was to spend on Bayou Bceuf — having got-
ten through my last cotton picking, and about to bid
Master Epps farewell — I must beg the reader to go
back with me to the month of August ; to follow Bass'
letter on its long journey to Saratoga; to learn the
effect it produced — and that, while I was repining
and despairing in the slave hut of Edwin Epps,
through the friendship of Bass and the goodness of
Providence, all things were working together for my
THE LETTER REACHES SARATOGA IS FORWARDED TO ANNE IS LAID BE-
FORE HENRY B. NORTHUP THE STATUTE OF MAY 14, 1840 ITS PRO-
VISIONS ANNE'S MEMORIAL TO THE GOVERNOR THE AFFIDAVITS AC-
COMPANYING IT SENATOR SOULE's LETTER DEPARTURE OF THE AGENT
APPOINTED BY THE GOVERNOR ARRIVAL AT MARKSVILLE THE HON.
JOHN P. "WADDILL THE CONVERSATION ON NEW-YORK POLITICS IT
SUGGESTS A FORTUNATE IDEA THE MEETING WITH BASS THE SECRET
OUT LEGAL PROCEEDINGS INSTITUTED DEPARTURE OF NORTHUP AND
THE SHERIFF FROM MARKSVILLE FOR BAYOU BCEUF ARRANGEMENTS ON
THE WAY REACH EPPs' PLANTATION DISCOVER HIS SLAVES IN THE
COTTON FIELD THE MEETING THE FAREWELL.
I am indebted to Mr. Henry B. Northu/p and oth-
ers for many of the particulars contained in this
The letter written by Bass, directed to Parker and
Perry, and which was deposited in the post-office in
Marksville on the 15th day of August, 1852, arrived
at Saratoga in the early part of September. Some
time previous to this, Anne had removed to Glens
Palls, Warren county, where she had charge of the
kitchen in Carpenter's Hotel. She kept house, how-
ever, lodging with our children, and was only absent
from them during such time as the discharge of her
duties in the hotel required.
290 TWELVE YEARS A SLATE.
Messrs. Parker and Perry, on receipt of the letter,
forwarded it immediately to Anne. On reading it
the children were all excitement, and without delay
hastened to the neighboring village of Sandy Hill,
to consult Henry B. JNorthup, and obtain his advice
and assistance in the matter.
Upon examination, that gentleman found among
the statutes of the State an act providing for the re-
covery of free citizens from slavery. It was passed
May 14, 1840, and is entitled "An act more effectu-
ally to protect the free citizens of this State from
being kidnapped or reduced to slavery." It provides
that it shall be the duty of the Governor, upon the re-
ceipt of satisfactory information that any free citizen or
inhabitant of this State, is wrongfully held in another
State or Territory of the United States, upon the al-
legation or pretence that such person is a slave, or
by color of any usage or rule of law is deemed or
taken to be a slave, to take such measures to procure
the restoration of such person to liberty, as he shall
deem necessary. And to that end, he is authorized
to appoint and employ an agent, and directed to fur-
nish him with such credentials and instructions as will
be likely to accomplish the object of his appointment.
It requires the agent so appointed to proceed to col-
lect the proper proof to establish the right of such
person to his freedom ; to perform such journeys, take
such measures, institute such legal proceedings, &c,
as may be necessary to return such person to this
State, and charges all expenses incurred in carrying
ANNE'S MEMOEIAL TO THE GOVEENOB. 291
the act into effect, upon 'moneys not otherwise ap-
propriated in the treasury.*
It was necessary to establish two facts to the satis-
faction of the Governor : First, that I was a free citi-
zen of JSTew-York ; and secondly, that I was wrong-
fully held in bondage. As to the first point, there
was no difficulty, all the older inhabitants in the vi-
cinity being ready to testify to it. The second point
rested entirely upon the letter to Parker and Perry,
written in an unknown hand, and upon the letter pen-
ned on board the brig Orleans, which, unfortunately,
had been mislaid or lost.
A memorial was prepared, directed to his excellen-
cy, Governor Hunt, setting forth her marriage, my
departure to "Washington city ; the receipt of the let-
ters ; that I was a free citizen, and such other facts as
were deemed important, and was signed and verified
by Anne. Accompanying this memorial were sever-
al affidavits of prominent citizens of Sandy Hill and
Fort Edward, corroborating fully the statements it
contained, and also a request of several well known
gentlemen to the Governor, that Henry B. ISTorthup
be appointed agent under the legislative act.
On reading the memorial and affidavits, his excel-
lency took a lively interest in the matter, and on the
23d day of November, 1852, under the seal of the
State, " constituted, appointed and employed Henry
B. IsTorthup, Esq., an agent, with full power to effect"
my restoration, and to take such measures as would
* See Appendix A.
292 TWELVE TEAES A SLAVE.
be most likely to accomplish it, and instructing him
to proceed to Louisiana with all convenient dispatch.*
The pressing nature of Mr. ISTorthup's professional
and political engagements delayed his departure un-
til December. On the fourteenth day of that month
he left Sandy Hill, and proceeded to "Washington.
The Hon. Pierre Soule, Senator in Congress from Lou-
isiana, Hon. Mr. Conrad, Secretary of "War, and
Judge Nelson, of the Supreme Court of the United
States, upon hearing a statement of the facts, and ex-
amining his commission, and certified copies of the
memorial and affidavits, furnished him with open let-
ters to gentlemen in Louisiana, strongly urging their
assistance in accomplishing the object of his ap-
Senator Soule especially interested himself in the
matter, insisting, in forcible language, that it was the
duty and interest of every planter in his State to aid
in restoring me to freedom, and trusted the sentiments
of honor and justice in the bosom of every citizen of
the commonwealth would enlist him at once in rny
behalf. Having obtained these valuable letters, Mr.
Kbrthup returned to Baltimore, and proceeded from
thence to Pittsburgh. It was his original intention,
under advice of friends at Washington, to go directly
to New Orleans, and consult the authorities of that
city. Providentially, however, on arriving at the
mouth of Eed Piver, he changed his mind. Had he
continued on, he would not have met with Bass, in
* See Appendix B.
ARRIVAL AT MARKS VTLLE. 293
which case the search for nie would probably have
Taking passage on the first steamer that arrived,
he pursued his journey up Red River, a sluggish,
winding stream, flowing through a vast region of
primitive forests and impenetrable swamps, almost
wholly destitute of inhabitants. About nine o'clock in
the forenoon, January 1st, 1853, he left the steamboat
at Marksville, and proceeded directly to Marksville
Court House, a small village four miles in the interior.
From the fact that the letter to Messrs. Parker and
Perry was post-marked at Marksville, it was supposed
by him that I was in that place or its immediate vi-
cinity. On reaching this town, he at once laid his
business before the Hon. John P. "Waddill, a legal
gentleman of distinction, and a man of fine genius
and most noble impulses. After reading the letters
and documents presented him, and listening to a rep-
resentation of the, circumstances under which I had
been carried away into captivity, Mr. Waddill at
once proffered his services, and entered into the af-
fair with great zeal and earnestness. He, in common
with others of like elevated character, looked upon
the kidnapper with abhorrence. The title of his fel-
low parishioners and clients to the property which
constituted the larger proportion of their wealth, not
only depended upon the good faith in which slave
sales were transacted, but he was a man in whose
honorable heart emotions of indignation were aroused
by such an instance of injustice.
294 TWELVE TEAKS A SLATE.
Marksville, although occupying a prominent posi-
tion, and standing out in impressive italics on the
map of Louisiana, is, in fact, but a small and insig-
nificant hamlet. Aside from the tavern, kept by a
jolly and generous boniface, the court house, inhabi-
ted by lawless cows and swine in the seasons of va-
cation, and a high gallows, with its dissevered rope
dangling in the air, there is little to attract the at-
tention of the stranger. ^H^
Solomon ISTorthup was a name Mr. TVaddill flB
never heard, but he was confident that if there was
a slave bearing that appellation in Marksville or vi-
cinity, his black boy Tom would know him. Tom
was accordingly called, but in all his extensive cir-
cle of acquaintances there was no such personage.
The letter to Parker and Perry was dated at Bayou
Bceuf. At this place, therefore, the conclusion was,
I must be sought. But here a difficulty suggested
itself, of a very grave character indeed. Bayou Bceuf,
at its nearest point, was twenty-three miles distant,
and was the name applied to the section of country
extending between fifty and a hundred miles, on
both sides of that stream. Thousands and thousands
of slaves resided upon its shores, the remarkable
richness and fertility of the soil having attracted
thither a great number of planters. The information
in the letter was so vague and indefinite as to render
it difficult to conclude upon any specific course of
proceeding. It was finally determined, however, as
the only plan that presented any prospect of success 3
NEW-YORK POLITICS. 295
that Northup and the brother of Waddill, a student
in the office of the latter, should repair to the Bayou,
and traveling up one side and down the other its
whole length, inquire at each plantation for me. Mr.
Waddill tendered the use of his carriage, and it was
definitely arranged that they should start upon the
excursion early Monday morning.
It will he seen at once that this course, in all prob-
ability, would have resulted unsuccessfully. It would
have been impossible for them to have gone into the
fields and examine all the gangs at work. They
were not aware that I was known only as Piatt ; and
had they inquired of Epps himself, he would have
stated truly that he knew nothing of Solomon
The arrangement being adopted, however, there
was nothing further to be done until Sunday had
elapsed. The conversation between" Messrs. Northup
and "Waddill, in the course of the afternoon, turned
upon !New-York politics. -"
"I can scarcely comprehend the nice distinc-
tions and shades of political parties in your State,"
observed Mr. Waddill. " I read of soft-shells and
hard-shells, hunkers and barnburners, woolly-heads
and silver-grays, and am unable to understand the
precise difference between them. Pray, what is it V
Mr. ISTorthup, re-filling his pipe, entered into quite
an elaborate narrative of the origin of the various
sections of parties, and concluded by saying there was
another party in ISTew-York, known as free-soilers or
296 TWELVE YEARS A SLATE.
abolitionists. " Tou have seen none of those in this
part of the country, I presume ?" Mr. Northup re-
" .Never, but one," answered Waddill, laughingly.
" We have one here in Marksville, an eccentric crea-
ture, who preaches abolitionism as vehemently as any
fanatic at the North. He is a generous, inoffensive
man, but always maintaining the wrong side of an
argument. It affords us a deal of amusement. He
is an excellent mechanic, and almost indispensable in
this community. He is a carpenter. His name is
Some further good-natured conversation was had at
the expense of Bass' peculiarities, when "Waddill all
at once fell into a reflective mood, and asked for the
mysterious letter again.
'^Let me see — 1-e-t m-e s-e-e !" he repeated,
thoughtfully to himself, running his eyes over the let-
ter once more. " ' Bayou Bceuf, August 15.' August
15 — post-marked here. ' He that is writing for me — '
"Where did Bass work last summer?" he inquired,
turning suddenly to his brother. His brother was
unable to inform him, but rising, left the office, and
soon returned with the intelligence that " Bass work-
ed last summer somewhere on Bayou Bceuf."
" He is the man," 'bringing down his hand emphat-
ically on the table,' "who can tell us all about Sol-
omon ISTorthup," exclaimed Waddill.
Bass was immediately searched for, but could not
be found. After some inquiry, it was ascertained he
THE MEETING "WITH BASS. 297
was at the landing on Red River. Procuring a con-
veyance, young TVaddill and ISTorthup were not long-
in traversing the few miles to the latter place. On
their arrival, Bass was found, just on the point of leav-
ing, to be absent a fortnight or more. After an in-
troduction, ISTorthup begged the privilege of speaking -.
to him privately a moment. They walked together
towards the river, when the following conversation
" Mr. Bass," said ISTorthup, " allow me to ask you
if you were on Bayou Boeuf last August ? "
" Tes, sir, I was there in August," was the reply.
" Did you write a letter for a colored man at that
place to some gentleman in Saratoga Springs ? "
" Excuse me, sir, if I say that is none of your busi=
ness," answered Bass, stopping and looking his inter-
rogator searchingly in the face.
" Perhaps I am rather hasty, Mr. Bass ; I beg your
pardon ; but I have come from the State of ]STew-York
to accomplish the purpose the writer of a letter dated-'-
the 15th of August, post-marked at Marksville, had
in view. Circumstances have led me to think that
you are perhaps the man who wrote it. I am in
search of Solomon ISTorthup. If you know him, I beg
you to inform me frankly where he is, and I assure
you the source of any information you may give me
shall not be divulged, if you desire it not to be."
A long time Bass looked his new acquaintance
steadily in the eyes, without opening his lips. He
seemed to be doubting in his own mind if there was
298 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
not an attempt to practice some deception upon him.
Finally he said, deliberately — ■
" I have done nothing to be ashamed of. I am the
man who wrote the letter. If you have come to res-
cue Solomon Northup, I am glad to see you."
" "When did you last see him, and where is he ? "
" I last saw him Christmas, a week ago to-day.
He is the slave of Edwin Epps, a planter on Bayou
Boeuf, near Holmesville. He is not known as Solo-
mon Northup ; he is called Piatt."
The secret was out — the mystery was unraveled.
Through the thick, black cloud, amid whose dark and
dismal shadows I had walked twelve years, broke the
star that was to light me back to liberty. All mis-
trust and hesitation were soon thrown aside, and the
two men conversed long and freely upon the subject
uppermost in their thoughts. Bass expressed the
interest he had taken in my behalf — his intention of
going north in the Spring, and declaring that he had
resolved to accomplish my emancipation, if it were in
his power. He described the commencement and
progress of his acquaintance with me, and listened
with eager curiosity to the account given him of my
family, and the history of my early life. Before sep-
arating, he drew a map of the bayou on a strip of paper
with a piece of red chalk, showing the locality of Epps 5
plantation, and the road leading most directly to it.
Northup and his young companion returned to
Marksville, where it was determined to commence
LEGAL PEOCEEDmGS. 299
legal proceedings to test the question of my right to
freedom. I was made plaintiff, Mr. ISTorthup acting
as my guardian, and Edwin Epps defendant. The
process to be issued was in the nature of replevin, di-
rected to the sheriff of the parish, commanding him
to take me into custody, and detain me until the de-
cision of the court. By the time the papers were duly
drawn up, it was twelve o'clock at night — too late to
obtain the necessary signature of the Judge, who resi-
ded some distance out of town. Further business was
therefore suspended until Monday morning.
Everything, apparently, was moving along swim-
mingly, until Sunday afternoon, when Waddill called
at ISTorthup's room to express his apprehension of dif-
ficulties they had not expected to encounter. Bass
had become alarmed, and had placed his affairs in
the hands of a person at the landing, communicating
to him his intention of leaving the State. This per-
son had betrayed the confidence reposed in him to a
certain extent, and a rumor began to float about the
town, that the stranger at the hotel, who had been
observed in the company of lawyer Waddill, was after
one of old Epps' slaves, over on the bayou. Epps
was known at Marksville, having frequent occasion
to visit that place during the session of the courts, and
the fear entertained by Mr. Northup's adviser was,
that intelligence would be conveyed to him in the
night, giving him an opportunity of secreting me be-
fore the arrival of the sheriff.
This apprehension had the effect of expediting mat-
800 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
ters considerably. The sheriff, who lived in one direc-
tion from the village, was requested to hold himself
in readiness immediately after midnight, while the
Judge was informed he would be called upon at the
same time. It is but justice to say, that the authori-
ties at Marksville cheerfully rendered all the assist-
ance in their power.
As soon after midnight as bail could be perfected,
and the Judge's signature obtained, a carriage, con-
taining Mr. Northup and the sheriff, driven by the
landlord's son, rolled rapidly out of the village of
Marksville, on the road towards Bayou Boeuf.
It was supposed that Epps would contest the issue
involving my right to liberty, and it therefore sug-
gested itself to Mr. JSTorthup, that the testimony of the
sheriff, describing my first meeting with the for-
mer, might perhaps become material on the trial.
It was accordingly arranged during the ride, that,
before I had an opportunity of speaking to Mr.
Northup, the sheriff should propound to me cer-
tain questions agreed upon, such as the number and
names of my children, the name of my wife before
marriage, of places I knew at the North, and so forth.
If my answers corresponded with the statements giv-
en him, the evidence must necessarily be considered
At length, shortly after Epps had left the field, with
the consoling assurance that he would soon return and
warm us, as was stated in the conclusion of the pre-
ceding chapter, they came in sight of the plantation,
REACH EPPS' PLANTATION. 301
and discovered us at work. Alighting from the car-
riage, and directing the driver to proceed to the great
house, with instructions not to mention to any one
the object of their errand until they met again, JSTorth-
up and the sheriff turned from the highway, and came
towards us across the cotton field. "We observed them,
on looking up at the carriage — one several rods in
advance of the other. It was a singular and unusual
thing to see white men approaching us in that man-
ner, and especially at that early hour in the morning',
and Uncle Abram and Patsey made some remarks,
expressive of their astonishment. Walking up to
Bob, the sheriff inquired :
" Where's the boy they call Piatt ? "
" Thar he is, massa," answered Bob, pointing to me,
and twitching off his hat.
I wondered to myself what business he could pos-
sibly have with me, and turning round, gazed at him
until he had approached within a step. During my
long residence on the bayou, I had become familiar
with the face of every planter within many miles ;
but this man was an utter stranger — certainly I had
never seen him before.
" Your name is Piatt, is it ? " he asked.
" Yes, master," I responded.
Pointing towards Northup, standing a few rods dis-
tant, he demanded — " Do you know that man ? "
I looked in the direction indicated, and as my eyes
rested on his countenance, a world of images thronged
my brain ; a multitude of well-known faces — Anne's,
302 TWELVE TEARS A SLAVE.
and the dear children's, and my old dead father's ; all
the scenes and associations of childhood and youth ;
all the friends of other and happier days, appeared
and disappeared, flitting and floating like dissolving
shadows before the vision of my imagination, until at
last the perfect memory of the man recurred to me,
and throwing up my hands towards Heaven, I ex-
claimed, in a voice louder than I could utter in a less
exciting moment —
" Henry B. Mrthup ! Thank God — thank God ! "
In an instant I comprehended the nature of his busi-
ness, and felt that the hour of my deliverance was at
hand. I started towards him, but the sheriff stepped
"Stop a moment," said he ; "have you any other
name than Piatt ? "
" Solomon Northup is my name, master," I replied.
" Have you a family 2 " he inquired.
" I had a wife and three children."
" What were your children's names ? "
" Elizabeth, Margaret and Alonzo."
" And your wife's name before her marriage % "
u Anne Hampton."
" "Who married you ? "
" Timothy Eddy, of Fort Edward."
" Where does that gentleman live ? " again pointing
to Xorthup, who remained standing in the same place
where I had first recognized him.
" He lives in Sandy Hill, Washington county, !New
York," was the reply.
THE MEETING. 303
He was proceeding to ask further questions, but I
pushed past him, unable longer to restrain myself.
I seized my old acquaintance by both hands. I could
not speak, I could not refrain from tears.
" Sol," he said at length, " I'm glad to see you."
I essayed to make some answer, but emotion choked
all utterance, and I was silent. The slaves, utterly
confounded, stood gazing upon the scene, their open
mouths and rolling eyes indicating the utmost wonder
and astonishment. For ten years I had dwelt among
them, in the field and in the cabin, borne the same
hardships, partaken the same fare, mingled my griefs
with theirs, participated in the same scanty joys ;
nevertheless, not until this hour, the last I was to re-
main among them, had the remotest suspicion of my
true name, or the slightest knowledge of my real his-
tory, been entertained by any one of them.
~Not a word was spoken for several minutes, during
which time I clung fast to Northup, looking up into
his face, fearful I should awake and find it all a
" Throw down that sack," Northup added, finally ;
" your cotton-picking days are over. Come with us
to the man you live with."
I obeyed him, and walking between him and the
sheriff, we moved towards the great house. It was
not until we had proceeded some distance that I had
recovered my voice sufficiently to ask if my family
were all living. He informed me he had seen Anne,
Margaret and Elizabeth but a short time previously ;
304 TWELVE TEARS A SLAVE.
that Alonzo was also living, and all were well. My
mother, however, I could never see again. As I be-
gan to recover in some measure from the sudden and
great excitement which so overwhelmed me, I grew
faint and weak, insomuch it was with difficulty I could
walk. The sheriff took hold of my arm and assisted
me, or I think I should have fallen. As we entered
the yard, Epps stood by the gate, conversing with the
driver. That young man, faithful to his instructions,
was entirely unable to give him the least information
in answer to his repeated inquiries of what was going
on. By the time we reached him he was almost as
much amazed and puzzled as Bob or Uncle Abram.
Shaking hands with the sheriff, and receiving an
introduction to Mr. Northup, he invited them into the
house, ordering me, at the same time, to bring in
some wood. It was some time before I succeeded in
cutting an armful, having, somehow, unaccountably,
lost the power of wielding the axe with any manner
of precision. When I entered with it at last, the
table was strewn with papers, from one of which
Korthup was reading. I was probably longer than
necessity required, in placing the sticks upon the fire,
being particular as to the exact position of each indi-
vidual one of them. I heard the words, " the said
Solomon ISTorthup," and " the deponent further says,"
and " free citizen of New- York," repeated frequently,
and from these expressions understood that the secret
I had so long retained from Master and Mistress Epps,
was finally developing. I lingered as long as pru-
^- ~ ^. ovff. J
SCENE IN THE COTTON FIELD, SOLOMON DELIVERED UP.
MEETING AT EPPs' HOUSE. 305
dence permitted, and was about leaving the room,
when Epps inquired,
" Piatt, do you know this gentleman ? "
" Yes, master," I replied, " I have known him as
long as I can remember."
" Where does he live ? "
" He lives in Eew-York."
" Did you ever live there ? "
" Yes, master — born and bred there."
" You was free, then. Now you d d nigger,"
he exclaimed, " why did you not tell me that when I
bought you % "
" Master Epps," I answered, in a somewhat differ-
ent tone than the one in which I had been accustomed
to address him — " Master Epps, you did not take the
trouble to ask me ; besides, I told one of my owners —
the man that kidnapped me — that I was free, and
was whipped almost to death for it."
" It seems there has been a letter written for you by
somebody. Now, who is it ? " he demanded, authori-
tatively. I made no reply.
" I say, who wrote that letter ? " he demanded
" Perhaps I wrote it myself," I said.
" You haven't been to Marksville post-office and
hack before light, I know."
He insisted upon my informing him, and I insisted
I would not. He made many vehement threats against
the man, whoever he might be, and intimated the
bloody and savage vengeance he would wreak upon
306 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
him, when he found him out. His whole manner
and language exhibited a feeling of anger towards the
unknown person who had written for me, and of fret-
fulness at the idea of losing so much property. Ad-
dressing Mr. Korthup, he swore if he had only had an
hour's notice of his coming, he would have saved him
the trouble of taking me back to New- York ; that he
would have run me into the swamp, or some other
place out of the way, where all the sheriffs on earth
couldn't have found me.
I walked out into the yard, and was entering the
kitchen door, when something struck me in the back.
Aunt Phebe, emerging from the back door of the
great house with a pan of potatoes, had thrown one
of them with unnecessary violence, thereby giving
me to understand that she wished to speak to me a
moment confidentially. Running up to me, she whis-
pered in my ear with great earnestness,
" Lor a' mity, Piatt ! what d'ye think ? Dem two
men come after ye. Heard 'em tell massa you free —
got wife and tree children back thar whar you come
from. Goin' wid 'em? Fool if ye don't — wish I
could go," and Aunt Phebe ran on in this manner at
a rapid rate.
Presently Mistress Epps made her appearance in
the kitchen. She said many things to me, and won-
dered why I had not told her who I was. She ex-
pressed her regret, complimenting me by saying she
had rather lose any other servant on the plantation,
Had Patsey that day stood in my place, the measure
THE FAEEWELL. 307
of my mistress' joy would have overflowed. !Now
there was no one left who could mend a chair or a
piece of furniture — no one who was of any use about
the house — no one who could play for her on the vio-
lin — and Mistress Epps was actually affected to tears.
Epps had called to Bob to bring up his saddle horse.
The other slaves, also, overcoming their fear of the
penalty, had left their work and come to the yard.
They were standing behind the cabins, out of sight of
Epps. They beckoned me to come to them, and with
all the eagerness of curiosity, excited to the highest
pitch, conversed with and questioned me.. If I could
repeat the exact words they uttered, with the same
emphasis — if I could paint their several attitudes, and
the expression of their countenances — it would be
indeed an interesting picture. In their estimation, I
had suddenly arisen to an immeasurable height — had
become a being of immense importance.
The legal papers having been served, and arrange-
ments made with Epps to meet them the next day at
Marksville, ISTorthup and the sheriff entered the
carriage to return to the latter place. As I was about
mounting to the driver's seat, the sheriff said I ought
to bid Mr. and Mrs. Epps good bye. I ran back to
the piazza where they were standing, and taking off
my hat, said,
" Good-bye, missis."
" Good-bye, Piatt," said Mrs. Epps, kindly.
" Good-bye, master."
" Ah ! you d — d nigger," muttered Epps, in a surly,
308 TWELVE YEAE8 A SLAVE.
malicious tone of voice, " you needn't feel so cussed
tickled — you ain't gone yet — I'll see about this busi-
ness at Marksville to-morrow."
I was only a " niggei^ and knew my place, but felt
as strongly as if I bad been a white man, that it
would have been an inward comfort, had I dared to
have given him a parting kick. On my way back to
the carriage, Patsey ran from behind a cabin and
threw her arms about my neck.
" Oh ! Piatt," she cried, tears streaming down her
face, "you're goin' to be free — you're goin' way off
yonder where we'll neber see ye any more. You've
saved me a good many whippins, Piatt ; I'm glad
you're goin' to be free — but oh! de Lord, de Lord!
what'll become of me ?"
I disengaged myself from her, and entered the
carriage. The driver cracked his whip and away we
rolled. I looked back and saw Patsey, with drooping
head, half reclining on the ground ; Mrs. Epps was on
the piazza ; Uncle Abrarn, and Bob, and Wiley, and
Aunt Phebe stood by the gate, gazing after me. I
waved my hand, but the carriage turned a bend of
the bayou, hiding them from my eyes forever.
"We stopped a moment at Carey's sugar house,
where a great number of slaves were at work, such
an establishment being a curiosity to a Northern man.
Epps dashed by us on horseback at full speed — on
the way, as we learned next day, to the " Pine
Woods," to see William Ford, who had brought me
into the country.
DEPASTURE HOMEWAPwD. 309
Tuesday, the fourth of January, Epps and his coun-
sel, the Hon. H. Taylor, ISTorthup, Waddill, the Judge
and sheriff of Avoyelles, and myself, met in a room
in the village of Marksville. Mr. Northup stated the
facts in regard to me, and presented his commission,
and the affidavits accompanying it. The sheriff de-
scribed the scene in the cotton field. I was also
interrogated at great length. Finally, Mr. Taylor
assured his client that he was satisfied, and that liti-
gation would not only be expensive, but utterly use-
less. In accordance with his advice, a paper was
drawn up and signed by the proper parties, wherein
Epps acknowledged he was satisfied of my right to
freedom, and formally surrendered me to the authori-
ties of New- York. It was also stipulated that it be
entered of record in the recorder's office of Avoy-
Mi*. Northup and myself immediately hastened to
the landing, and taking passage on the first steamer
that arrived, were soon floating down Red River, up
which, with such desponding thoughts, I had been
borne twelve years before.
* See Appendix 0.
ARRIVAL IN NEW-ORLEANS GLIMPSE OF FREEMAN GENOIS, THE RECORD-
ER HIS DESCRIPTION OF SOLOMON REACH CHARLESTON INTERRUPTED
BT CUSTOM HOUSE OFFICERS PASS THROUGH RICHMOND ARRIVAL IN
WASHINGTON BURCH ARRESTED SHEKELS AND THORN THEIR TESTI-
MONY BURCH ACQUITTED ARREST CF SOLOMON BURCH WITHDRAWS
THE COMPLAINT THE HIGHER TRIBUNAL DEPARTURE FROM WASHING-
TON ARRIVAL AT SANDY HILL OLD FRIENDS AND FAMILIAR SCENES
PROCEED TO GLENS FALLS MEETING WITH ANNE, MARGARET AND ELIZA-
BETH SOLOMON NORTHUP STAUNTON INCIDENTS CONCLUSION.
As the steamer glided on its way towards New-
Orleans, perhaps I was not happy — perhaps there
was no difficulty in restraining myself from dancing
round the deck — perhaps I did not feel grateful to
the man who had come so many hundred miles for
me — perhaps I did not light his pipe, and wait and
watch his word, and run at his slightest bidding. If
I didn't — well, no matter.
"We tarried at New-Orleans two days. During that
time I pointed out the locality of Freeman's slave
pen, and the room in which Ford purchased me. We
happened to meet Theophilus in the street, but I did
not think it worth while to renew acquaintance with
him. From respectable citizens we ascertained he
had become a low, miserable rowdy — a broken-down,
THE RECORDER OF NEW-ORLEANS. 311
"We also visited the recorder, Mr. Genois, to whom
Senator Soule's letter was directed, and found him a
man well deserving the wide and honorable reputa-
tion that he bears. He very generously furnished us
with a sort of legal pass, over his signature and seal
of office, and as it contains the recorder's description
of my personal appearance, it may not be amiss to in-
sert it here. The following is a copy :
" State of Louisiana — City of New- Orleans :
Eecorder's Office, Second District.
" To all to whom these presents shall come : —
" This is to certify that Henry B. Northup, Esquire, of the
county of Washington, New-York, has produced before me due
evidence of the freedom of Solomon, a mulatto man, aged
about forty-two years, five feet, seven inches and six lines, woolly
hair, and chestnut eyes, who is a native born of the State of
New-York. That the said Northup, being about bringing the
said Solomon to his native place, through the southern routes,
the civil authorities are requested to let the aforesaid color-
ed man Solomon pass unmolested, he demeaning well and
" Given under my hand and the seal of the city of New-Or
leans this 7th January, 1853.
[l. s.] "TH. GENOIS, Eecorder."
On the 8th we came to Lake Pontchartrain, by rail-
road, and, in due time, following the usual route,
reached Charleston. After going on board the steam-
boat, and paying our passage at this city, Mr. North-
up was called upon by a custom-house officer to ex-
plain why he had not registered his servant. He
312 TWELVE TEAES A SLAVE.
replied that lie had no servant — that, as the agent of
New- York, he was accompanying a free citizen of that
State from slavery to freedom, and did not desire nor
intend to make any registry whatever. I conceived
from his conversation and manner, though I may per-
haps be entirely mistaken, that no great pains would
be taken to avoid whatever difficulty the Charleston
officials might deem proper to create. At length,
however, we were permitted to proceed, and, passing
through Richmond, where I caught a glimpse of
Goodin's pen, arrived in "Washington January 17th,
"We ascertained that both Burch and Radburn were
still residing in that city. Immediately a complaint
was entered with a police magistrate of Washington,
against James H. Burch, for kidnapping and selling
me into slavery. He was arrested upon a warrant
issued by Justice Gocldard, and returned before Jus-
tice Mansel, and held to bail in the sum of three thou-
sand dollars. When first arrested, Burch was much
excited, exhibiting the utmost fear and alarm, and be-
fore reaching the justice's office on Louisiana Ave-
nue, and before knowing the precise nature of the
complaint, begged the police to permit him to consult
Benjamin O. Shekels, a slave trader of seventeen
years' standing, and his former partner. The latter
became his bail.
At ten o'clock, the 18th of January, both parties
appeared before the magistrate. Senator Chase, of
Ohio, Hon. Orville Clark, of Sandy Hill, and Mr,
BUKCII AEEESTED. 313
Northup acted as counsel for the prosecution, and Jo-
seph H. Bradley for the defence.
Gen. Orville Clark was called and sworn as a wit-
ness, and testified that he had known me from child-
hood, and that I was a free man, as was my father be-
fore me. Mr. ISTorthup then testified to the same, and
proved the facts connected with his mission to Avoy-
Ebenezer Radburn was then sworn for the prosecu-
tion, and testified he was forty-eight years old ; that
he was a resident of Washington, and had known
Burch fourteen years ; that in 1841 he was keeper of
Williams' slave pen ; that he remembered the fact of
my confinement in the pen that year. At this point
it was admitted by the defendant's counsel, that I had
been placed in the pen by Burch in the spring of
1811, and hereupon the prosecution rested.
Benjamin O. Shekels was then offered as a witness
by the prisoner. Benjamin is a large, coarse-featured
man, and the reader may perhaps get a somewhat
correct conception of him by reading the exact lan-
guage he used in answer to the first question of de-
fendant's lawyer. He was asked the place of his na-
tivity, and his reply, uttered in a sort of rowdyish
way, was in these very words —
" I was born in Ontario county, New-York, and
weighed fourteen pounds /"
Benjamin was a prodigious baby ! He further tes-
tified that he kept the Steamboat Hotel in Washing-
ton in 1841, and saw me there in the spring of that
314: TWELVE TEAKS A SLATE.
year. lie was proceeding to state what lie had heard
two men say, when Senator Chase raised a legal ob-
jection, to wit, that the sayings of third persons, be-
ing hearsay, was improper evidence. The objection
was overruled by the Justice, and Shekels continued,
stating that two men came to his hotel and represent-
ed they had a colored man for sale ; that they had an
interview with Burch ; that they stated they came
from Georgia, but he did not remember the county ;
that they gave a full history of the boy, saying he was
a bricklayer, and pla} T ed on the violin ; that Burch
remarked he would purchase if they could agree ; that
they went out and brought the boy in, and that I was
the same person. He further testified, with as
much unconcern as if it was the truth, that I rep-
presented I was born and bred in Georgia ; that
one of the young men with me was my master ; that
I exhibited a great deal of regret at parting with him,
and he believed " got into tears !" — nevertheless, that
I insisted my master had a right to sell me ; that he
ought to sell me ; and the remarkable reason I gave
was, according to Shekels, because he, my master,
" had been gambling and on a spree !"
He continued, in these words, copied from the min-
utes taken on the examination : " Burch interrogated
the boy in the usual manner, told him if he purchas-
ed him he should send him south. The boy said he
had no objection, that in fact he would like to go
south. Burch paid $650 for him, to my knowledge.
I don't know what name was given him, but think it
SIIEKELS AND THORN. 315
was not Solomon. Did not know the name of either
of the two men. They were in my tavern two or three
hours, during which time the hoy played on the vio-
lin. The bill of sale was signed in my bar-room. It
was a printed Manic, filled up oy Burch. Before 1838
Burch was my partner. Our business was buying
and selling slaves. After that time he was a partner
of Theophilus Freeman, of JSTew-Orleans. Burch
bought here — Freeman sold there !"
Shekels, before testifying, had heard my relation of
the circumstances connected with the visit to "Wash-
ington with Brown and Hamilton, and therefore, it
was, undoubtedly, he spoke of " two men," and of my
playing on the violin. Such was his fabrication, ut-
terly untrue, and yet there was found in Washington
a man who endeavored to corroborate him.
Benjamin A. Thorn testified he was at Shekels' in
1811, and saw a colored boy playing on a fiddle.
" Shekels said he was for sale. Heard his master tell
him he should sell him. The boy acknowledged to me
he was a slave. I was not present when the money
was paid. Will not swear positively this is the boy.
The master came near shedding tears : 1 'think the boy .
did! I have been engaged in the business of taking
slaves south, off and on, for twenty years. When I
can't do that I do something else."
I was then offered as a witness, but, objection be-
ing made, the court decided my evidence inadmissible.
It was rejected solely on the ground that I was a col-
316 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
ored man — the fact of my being a free citizen of
!New-York not being disputed.
Shekels having testified there was a bill of sale ex
ecuted, Burch was called upon by the prosecution to
produce it, inasmuch as such a paper would corrobo-
rate the testimony of Thorn and Shekels. The pris-
oner's counsel saw the necessity of exhibiting it, or
giving some reasonable explanation for its non-pro-
duction. To effect the latter, Burch himself was offer-
as a witness in his own behalf. It was contended by
counsel for the people, that such testimony should not
be allowed — that it was in contravention of every
rule of evidence, and if permitted would defeat the
ends of justice. His testimony, however, was receiv-
ed by the court ! He made oath that such a bill of
sale had been drawn up and signed, hut he had lost it,
and did not know what had oecorne of it ! Thereup-
on the magistrate was recpiested to dispatch a police
officer to Burch's residence, with directions to bring
his books, containing his bills of sales for the year
1841. The request was granted, and before any meas-
ure could be taken to prevent it, the officer had ob-
tained possession of the books, and brought them into
court. The sales for the year 181:1 were found, and
carefully examined, but no sale of myself, by any
name, was discovered !
Upon this testimony the court held the fact to be
established, that Burch came innocently and honestly
by me, and accordingly he was discharged. .
% AEEEST OF SOLOMON". 317
An attempt was then made by Burch and his sat-
ellites, to fasten upon me the charge that I had con-
spired with the two white men to defraud him — with
what success, appears in an extract taken from an ar-
ticle in the New-York Times, published a day or two
subsequent to the trial : " The counsel for the defend-
ant had drawn up, before the defendant was dis-
charged, an affidavit, signed by Burch, and had a
warrant out against the colored man for a conspiracy
with the two white men before referred to, to defraud
Burch out of six hundred and twenty-five dollars.
The warrant was served, and the colored man arrest-
ed and brought before officer Goddard. Burch and
his witnesses appeared in court, and EL B. ISTorthup
appeared as counsel for the colored man, stating he
was ready to proceed as counsel on the part of the de-
fendant, and asking no delay whatever. Burch, after
consulting privately a short time with Shekels, stated
to the magistrate that he wished him to dismiss the
complaint, as he would not proceed farther with it.
Defendant's counsel stated to the magistrate that if
the complaint was withdrawn, it must be without the
request or consent of the defendant. Burch then
asked the magistrate to let him have the complaint
and the warrant, and he took them. The counsel for
the defendant objected to his receiving them, and in-
sisted they should remain as part of the records of the
court, and that the court should endorse the proceed-
ings which had been had under the process. Burch
delivered them up, and the court rendered a judg-
318 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
merit of discontinuance by the request of the prosecu-
tor, and filed it in his office. "
There may be those who will affect to believe the
statement of the slave-trader — those, in whose minds
his allegations will weigh heavier than mine. I am a
poor colored man — one of a down-trodden and de-
graded race, whose humble voice may not be heeded
by the oppressor — but knowing the truth, and with a
full sense of my accountability, I do solemnly declare
before men, and before God, that any charge or as-
sertion, that I conspired directly or indirectly with
any person or persons to sell myself; that any other
account of my visit to Washington, my capture and
imprisonment in Williams' slave pen, than is contain-
ed in these pages, is utterly and absolutely false. I
never played on the violin in Washington. I never
was in the Steamboat Hotel, and never saw Thorn or
Shekels, to my knowledge, in my life, until last Jan-
uary. The story of the trio of slave-traders is a fab-
rication as absurd as it is base and unfounded. "Were
it true, I should not have turned aside on my way
back to liberty for the purpose of prosecuting Burch.
I should have avoided rather than sought him. I
should have known that such a step would have re-
sulted in rendering me infamous. Under the circum-
stances — longing as I did to behold my family, and
elated with the prospect of returning home — it is an
outrage upon probability to suppose I would have run
the hazard, not only of exposure, but of a criminal
DEPARTURE FROM WASHINGTON. 319
prosecution and conviction, by voluntarily placing
myself in the position I did, if the statements of
Burch and his confederates contain a particle of truth.
I took pains to seek him out, to confront him in a
court of law, charging him with the crime of kidnap-
ping ; and the only motive that impelled me to this
step, was a burning sense of the wrong he had inflict-
ed upon me, and a desire to bring him to justice.
He was accpiitted, in the manner, and by such means
as have been described. A human tribunal has per-
mitted him to escape ; but there is another and a
higher tribunal, where false testimony will not pre-
vail, and where I am willing, so far at least as these
statements are concerned, to be judged at last.
We left "Washington on the 20th of January, and
proceeding by the way of Philadelphia, New- York,
and Albany, reached Sandy Hill in the night of the
21st. My heart overflowed with happiness as I look-
ed around upon old familiar scenes, and found myself
in the midst of friends of other days. The following
morning I started, in company with several acquaint-
ances, for Glens Falls, the residence of Anne and our
As I entered their comfortable cottage, Margaret
was the first that met me. She did not recognize me.
When I left her, she was but seven years old, a little
prattling girl, playing with her toys. Now she was
grown to womanhood — was married, with a bright-
eyed boy standing by her side. Not forgetful of his
320 TWELVE TEAKS A SLAVE.
enslaved, unfortunate grand-father, she had named the
child Solomon Northup Staunton. When told who
I was, she was overcome with emotion, and unable to
speak. Presently Elizabeth entered the room, and
Anne came running from the hotel, having been in-
formed of my arrival. They embraced me, and with
tears flowing down their cheeks, hung upon my neck.
But I draw a veil over a scene which can better be
imagined than described.
When the violence of our emotions had subsided to
a sacred joy — when the household gathered round
the fire, that sent out its warm and crackling comfort
through the room, we conversed of the thousand
events that had occurred — the hopes and fears, the
joys and sorrows, the trials and troubles we had each
experienced during the long separation. Alonzo was
absent in the western part of the State. The boy
had written to his mother a short time previous, of
the prospect of his obtaining sufficient money to pur-
chase my freedom. From his earliest years, that had
been the chief object of his thoughts and his ambi-
tion. They knew I was in bondage. The letter writ-
ten on board the brig, and Clem Bay himself, had
given them that information. But where I was, until
the arrival of Bass' letter, was a matter of conjecture.
Elizabeth and Margaret once returned from school — ■
so Anne informed me — weeping bitterly. On inquir-
ing the cause of the children's sorrow, it was found
that, while studying geography, their attention had
been attracted to the picture of slaves working in the
ARRIVAL HOME, AND FIRST MEETING WITH HIS WIFE AND CHILDREN
cotton-field, and an overseer following them with his
whip. It reminded them of the sufferings their fa-
ther might be, and, as it happened, actually was, en-
during in the South. Numerous incidents, such as
these, were related — incidents showing they still held
me in constant remembrance, but not, perhaps, of
sufficient interest to the reader, to be recounted.
My narrative is at an end. I have no comments to
make upon the subject of Slavery. Those who read
this book may form their own opinions of the " pe-
culiar institution." "What it may be in other States,
I do not profess to know ; what it is in the region of
Tied River, is truly and faithfully delineated in these
pages. This is no fiction, no exaggeration. If I have
failed in anything, it has been in presenting to the
reader too prominently the bright side of the picture.
I doubt not hundreds have been as unfortunate as
myself; that hundreds of free citizens have been kid-
napped and sold into slavery, and are at this mo-
ment wearing out their lives on plantations in
Texas and Lonisiana.^But I forbear. Chastened
and subdued in spirit by the sufferings I have borne,
and thankful to that good Being through whose mer-
cy I have been restored to happiness and liberty,
I hope henceforward to lead an upright though lowly
life, and rest at last in the church yard where my fa-
A REFRAIN OF THE RED RIVER PLANTATION.
-rHrg~ i~~r — i— ' i j ' iri" i"™na"*a — " j—n r~n r^^ — j~r
~~£!?!T.T!13 .':....TTH !TTTT~^i ^~TTH -h"fr4^H~T
-*— ^--^ -- gl-a —t— . — ' ; — ' — l «^ w ' ■ * — : « ■ - — L
e — .«l — ^ — S — -A — ■ -4- — ! — -j — — j— " ,, ^ _ -
" Harper's creek and roarin' ribber,
Thar, my dear, we'll live forebber ;
Den we'll go to de Ingin nation,
All I want in dis creation,
Is pretty little wife and big plantation.
Up dat oak and down dat ribber,
Two overseers and one little nigger."
A.— Page 291.
An act more effectually to protect the free citizens of this State
from being kidnapped, or reduced to Slavery.
[Passed May 14, 1840.]
The People of the State of New- York, represented in Sen
ate and Assembly, do enact as follows :
§ 1. Whenever the Governor of this State shall receive
information satisfactory to him that any free citizen or any
inhabitant of this State has been kidnapped or transported
away out of this State, inro any other State or Territory of the
United States, for the purpose of being there held in slavery ; or
that such free citizen or inhabitant is wrongfully seized, im-
prisoned or held in slavery in any of the States or Territories
of the United States, on the allegation or pretence that such
a person is a slave, or by color of any usage or rule of law
prevailing in such State or Territory, is deemed or taken to bo
a slave, or not entitled of right to the personal liberty belong
ing to a citizen ; it shall be the duty of the said Governor to
324: TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
take such measures as he shall deem necessary to procure such
person to be restored to his liberty and returned to this State.
The Governor is hereby authorized to appoint and employ such
agent or agents as he shall deem necessary to effect the restora
tion and return of such person ; and shall furnish the said agent
■with such credentials and instructions as will be likely to ac
complish the object of his appointment. The Governor may
determine the compensation to be allowed to such agent for his
services besides his necessary expenses.
§ 2. Such agent shall proceed to collect the proper proof to
establish the right of such person to his freedom, and shall per-
form such journeys, take such measures, institute and procure
to be prosecuted such legal proceedings, under the direction of
the Governor, as shall be necessary to procure such person to
be restored to his liberty and returned to this State.
§ 3. The accounts for all services and expenses incurred in
carrying this act into effect shall be audited by the Comptroller,
and paid by the Treasurer on his warrant, out of any moneys
in the treasury of this State not otherwise appropriated. The
Treasurer may advance, on the warrant of the Comptroller, to
such agent, such sum or sums as the Governor shall certify to
be reasonable advances to enable him to accomplish the pur-
poses of his appointment, for which advance such agent shall
account, on the final audit of his warrant.
§ 4. This act shall take effect immediately.
B.— Page 292.
MEMORIAL OF ANNE.
To His Excellency, the Governor of the State of New-York :
The memorial of Anne Northup, of the village of Glens
Falls, ha the comity of Warren, State aforesaid, respectfully
sets forth —
That your memorialist, whose maiden name was Anne Hamp-
ton, was forty-four years old on the 14th day of March last, and
was married to Solomon Northup, then of Fort Edward, in
the county of Washington and State aforesaid, on the 25th day
of December, A. D. 1828, by Timothy Eddy, then a Justice
of the Peace. That the said Solomon, after such marriage,
lived and kept house with your memorialist hi said town until
1830, when he removed with his said family to the town of
Kingsbury in said county, and remained there about three
years, and then removed to Saratoga Springs in the State
aforesaid, and continued to reside in said Saratoga Springs and
the adjoining town until about the year 1841, as near as the
time can be recollected, when the said Solomon started to go to
the city of Washington, in the District of Columbia, since
which time your memorialist has never seen her said husband.
And your memorialist further states, that in the year 1841
she received information by a letter directed to Henry B.
Northup, Esq., of Sandy Hill, Washington county, New- York,
and post-marked at New-Orleans, that said Solomon had been
kidnapped in Washington, put on board of a vessel, and was
then in such vessel in New-Orleans, but could not tell how he
came in that situation, nor what his destination was.
That your memorialist ever since the last mentioned period
has been wholly unable to obtain any information of where the
said Solomon was, until the month of September last, when
320 TWELVE TEAKS A SLAVE-
another letter was received from the said Solomon, post-marked
at Marksville, in the parish of Avoyelles, in the State of Lou-
isiana, stating that he was held there as a slave, which state-
ment your memorialist believes to be true.
That the said Solomon is about forty-five years of age, and
never resided out of the State of New- York, in which State he
was born, until the time he went to Washington city, as before
stated. That the said Solomon Northup is a free citizen of the
State of New-York, and is now wrongfully held in slavery, in
or near Marksville, in the parish of Avoyelles, in the State of
Louisiana, one of the United States of America, on the allega-
tion or pretence that the said Solomon is a slave.
And your memorialist further states that Mintus Northup was
the reputed father of said Solomon, and was a negro, and died
at Fort Edward, on the 22d day of November, 1829; that the
mother of said Solomon was a mulatto, or three quarters white,
and died in the county of Oswego, New-York, some five or six
years ago, as your memorialist was informed and believes, and
never was a slave.
That your memorialist and her family are poor and wholly
unable to pay or sustain any portion of the expenses of restor-
ing the said Solomon to his freedom.
Your excellency is entreated to employ such agent or agents
as shall be deemed necessary to effect the restoration and return
of said Solomon Northup, in pursuance of an act of the Legis-
lature of the State of New-York, passed May 14th, 1840,
entitled " An act more effectually to protect the free citizens of
this State from being kidnappd or reduced to slavery." And
your memorialist will ever pray.
(Signed,) ANNE NORTHUP.
Dated November 19, 1852.
State of New-York :
Washington county, ss.
Anne Northup, of the village of Glens Falls, in the county
of Warren, in said State, being duly sworn, doth depose and
say that she signed the above memorial, and that the state-
ments therein con tamed are true.
(Signed,) . ANNE NORTHUP.
Subscribed and sworn before me this
19th November, 1852.
Charles Hughes, Justice Peace.
We recommend that the Governor appoint Henry B. Northup,
of the village of Sandy Hill, Washington county, New-York,
as one of the agents to procure the restoration and return
of Solomon Northup, named in the foregoing memorial of
Dated at Sandy Hill, Washington Ob., N. Y.,
November 20, 1852. (Signed.)
peter holbrook, daxiel sweet,
b. f. hoag, almon clark,
charles hughes, bexjamix ferris,
e. d. baker, josiah h. brown
State of New-York :
Washington County, ss :
Josiah Hand, of the village of Sandy Hill, in said county, be-
ing duly sworn, says, he is fifty-seven years old, and was bora
in said village, and has always resided there ; that he has
known Mintus Northup and his son Solomon, named in the an-
nexed memorial of Anne Northup, since previous to the year
1816 ; that Mintus Northup then, and until the time of his death,
cultivated a farm in the towns of Kingsbury and Port Edward,
from the time deponent first knew him until he died ; that said
Mintus and his wife, the mother of said Solomon Northup,
328 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
were reported to be free citizens of New-York, and deponent
"believes they were so free ; that said Solomon Northup was
born in said county of Washington, as deponent believes, and
was married Dec. 25th, 1828, in Fort Edward aforesaid, and
his said wife and three children — two daughters and one son —
are now living in Glens Falls, Warren county, New- York, and
that the said Solomon Northup always resided in said county
of Washington, and its immediate vicinity, until about 1841,
since winch time deponent has not seen him, but deponent
has been credibly informed, and as he verily believes truly,
the said Solomon is now wrongfully held as a slave in the
State of Louisiana. And deponent further says 'that Anne
Northup, named in the said memorial, is entitled to credit, and
deponent believes the statements contained in her said memo-
rial are true. (Signed,) JOSIAH HAND.
Subscribed and sworn before me this
19th day of November, 1852,
Charles Hughes, Justice Peace.
State of New-York :
Washington county, ss :
Timothy Eddy, of Fort Edward, in said county, being duly
sworn, says he is now over — years old, and has been a resident
of said town more than — years last past, and that he was
well acquainted with Solomon Northup, named in the annexed
memorial of Anne Northup, and with his father, Mintus North-
up, who was a negro, — the wife of said Mintus was a mulatto
woman ; that said Mintus Northup and his said wife and family,
two sons, Joseph and Solomon, resided in said town of Fort
Edward for several years before the year 1828, and said Min-
tus died in said town A. D. 1829, as deponent believes. And
deponent further says that he was a Justice of the Peace ic
said town in the year 1828, and as such Justice of the Peace,
he, on the 25th day of Dec'r, 1828, joined the said Solomon
Northup in marriage with Anne Hampton, who is the same
person who has subscribed the annexed memorial. And depo-
nent expressly says, that said Solomon was a free citizen of
the State of New-York, and always lived in said State, until
about the year A. D. 1840, since which time deponent has not
seen him, but has recently been informed, and as deponent be-
lieves truly, that said Solomon Northup is wrongfully held in
slavery hi or near Marksville, hi the parish of Avoyelles, hi the
State of Louisiana. And deponent further says, that said Min-
tus Northup was nearly sixty years old at the time of his death,
and was, for more than thirty years next prior to his death, a
free citizen of the State of New-York.
And this deponent further says, that Anne Northup, the wife
of said Solomon Northup, is of good character and reputation,
and her statements, as contained in the memorial hereto annexed,
are entitled to full credit.
(Signed,) TIMOTHY EDDY.
Subscribed and sworn before me this
19th day of November, 1852,
Tim'y Stoughton, Justice.
State of New-York :
Washington Comity, ss :
Henry B. Northup, of the village of Sandy Hill, in said
county, being duly sworn, says, that he is forty-seven years old,
and has always lived in said county ; that he knew Mintus
Northup, named hi the annexed memorial, from deponent's
earliest recollection until the time of his death, which occurred
at Fort Edward, hi said comity, in 1829; that deponent knew
the children of said Mintus, viz, Solomon and Joseph; that
they were both born in the comity of Washington aforesaid, as
deponent believes ; that deponent was well acquainted with
said Solomon, who is the same person named in the annexed
memorial of Anne Northup, from his childhood ; and that said
330 TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.
Solomon always resided in said county of Washington and the
adjoining counties until about the year 1841 ; that said Solo-
mon could read and write ; that said Solomon and his mother
and father were free citizens of the State of New-York ; that
sometime about the year 1841 this deponent received a letter
from said Solomon, post-marked New-Orleans, stating that
while on business at Washington city, he had been kidnapped,
and his free papers taken from him, and he was then on board
a vessel, in irons, and was claimed as a slave, and that he did
not know his destination, which the deponent believes to be
true, and he urged this deponent to assist in procuring his restora-
tion to freedom ; that deponent has lost or mislaid said letter,
and cannot find it ; that deponent has since endeavored to find
where said Solomon was, but could get no farther trace of him
until Sept. last, when this deponent ascertained by a letter pur-
porting to have been written by the direction of said Solomon,
that said Solomon was held and claimed as a slave in or near
Marksville, in the parish of Avoyelles, Louisiana, and that this
deponent verily believes that such information is true, and that
said Solomon is now wrongfully held in slavery at Marksville
aforesaid. (Signed,) HENRY B. NORTHUP.
Subscribed and sworn to before me
this 20th day of November, 1852,
Charles Hughes, J. P.
State of New-York :
Washington County, ss
Nicholas C. Northup, of the village of Sandy Hill, in said
county, being duly sworn, doth depose and say, that he is now
fifty-eight years of age, and has known Solomon Northup, men-
tioned in the annexed memorial of Ann Northup, ever since he
was born. And this deponent saith that said Solomon is now
about forty-five years old, and was born in the county of Wash-
ington aforesaid, or in the county of Essex, in said State, and
always resided in the State of New-York until about the year
1841, since which time deponent has not seen him or known
where he was, until a few weeks since, deponent was informed,
and believes truly, that said Solomon was held in slavery in
the State of Louisiana. Deponent further says, that said Sol-
omon was married in the town of Fort Edward, ha said county,
about twenty-four years ago, and that his wife and two daugh
ters and one son now reside in the village of Glens Falls, couu
ty of Warren, in said State of New-York. And this deponent
swears positively that said Solomon Northup is a citizen of said
State of New- York, and was born free, and from his earliest
infancy lived and resided in the counties of Washington, Essex,
Warren and Saratoga, in the State of New-York, and that his
said wife and children have never resided out of said counties
since the time said Solomon was married ; that deponent knew
the father of said Solomon Northup ; that said father was a
negro, named Mintus Northup, and died in the town of Fort
EdAvard, in the county of Washington, State of New- York, on
the 22d day of November, A. D. 1829, and was buried hi the
grave-yard hi Sandy Hill aforesaid ; that for more than thirty
years before his death he lived hi the counties of Essex, Wash-
ington and Rensselaer and State of New-York, and left a wife
and two sons, Joseph and the said Solomon, him surviving;
that the mother of said Solomon was a mulatto woman, and is
now dead, and died, as deponent believes, in Oswego county,
New-York, within five or six years past. And this deponent
further states, that the mother of the said Solomon Northup
was not a slave at the time of the birth of said Solomon North-
up, and has not been a slave at any time within the last fifty
years. (Signed,) N, C. NORTHUP.
Subscribed and sworn before me this 19th day
of November, 1852. Charles Hughes, Justice Peace.
332 TWELVE YEAES A SLAVE.
State of New-York :
Washington Comity, ss.
Orville Clark, of the village of Sandy Hill, in the county of
"Washington, State of New- York, being duly sworn, doth de-
pose and say — that he, this deponent, is over fifty years of age ;
that in the years 1810 and 1811, or most of the time of those
years, this deponent resided at Sandy Hill, aforesaid, and at
Glens Falls ; that this deponent then knew Mintus Nortlmp, a
black or colored man ; he was then a free man, as this depo-
nent believes and always understood ; that the wife of said
Mintus Northup, and mother of Solomon, was a free woman ;
that from the year 1818 until the time of the death of said
Mintus Northup, about the year 1829, this deponent was very
well acquainted with the said Mintus Northup ; that he was a
respectable man in the community in which he resided, and
was a free man, so taken and esteemed by all his acquaintan-
ces ; that this deponent has also been and was acquainted with
his son Solomon Northup, from the said year 1818 until he
left this part of the country, about the year 1840 or 1841;
that he married Anne Hampton, daughter of William Hamp-
ton, a near neighbor of this deponent ; that the said Anne, wife
of said Solomon, is now living and resides in this vicinity ; that
the said Mintus Northup and William Hampton were both re-
puted and esteemed in this community as respectable men.
And this deponent saith that the said Mintus Northup and his
family, and the said William Hampton and his family, from
the earliest recollection and acquaintance of this deponent with
him (as far back as 1810,) were always reputed, esteemed, and
taken to be, and this deponent believes, truly so, free citizens of
the State of New- York. This deponent knows the said Wil-
liam Hampton, under the laws of this State, was entitled to
vote at our elections, and .he believes the said Mintus Northup
also was entitled as a free citizen with the property qualifica-
tion. And this deponent further saith, that the said Solomon
Northnp, son of said Mintus, and husband of said Anne Hamp-
ton, when he left this State, was at the time thereof a free citi-
zen of the State of New- York. And this deponent further
saith, that said Anne Hampton, wife of Solomon Northup, is a
respectable woman, of good character, and I would believe her
statements, and do believe the facts set forth in her memorial
to his excellency, the Governor, in relation to her said husband,
are true. (Signed,) QRVILLE CLARK.
Sworn before me, November
U. G. Paris, Justice of the Peace.
State of New-York :
Washington County, ss.
Benjamin Ferris, of the village of Sandy Hill, in said county,
being duly sworn, doth depose and say — that he is now fifty-
seven years old, and has resided in said village forty-five years ;
that he was well acquainted with Mintus Northup, named in
the annexed memorial of Anne Northup, from the year 1816
to the time of his death, which occurred at Port Edward, in the
fall of 1829; that he knew the children of the said Mintus,
namely, Joseph Northup and Solomon Northup, and that the
said Solomon is the same person named in said memorial ;
that said Mintus resided in the said county of Washington to
the time of his death, and was, during all that time, a free citi-
zen of the said State of New- York, as deponent verily believes ;
that said memorialist, Anne Northup, is a woman of good char-
acter, and the statement contained in her memorial is entitled
(Signed) BENJAMIN FERRIS.
Sworn before me, November
U. G. Paris, Justice of the Peace.
331 TWELVE YEARS A SLA YE.
State of New- York:
Executive Chamber, Albany, Nov. 30, 1852.
I hereby certify that the foregoing is a correct copy of cer
tain proofs filed in the Executive Department, upon which ]
have appointed Henry B. Northup an Agent of this State, to
take proper proceedings in behalf of Solomon Northup, there
(Signed,) WASHINGTON HUNT.
By the Governor.
J. F. R., Private Secretary.
State of New-York :
Washington Hunt, Governor of the State of New-York,
to whom it may concern, greeting :
Whereas, I have received information on oath, which is sat-
isfactory to me, that Solomon Northup, who is a free citizen of
this State, is wrongfully held in slavery, in the State of Lou-
And whereas, it is made my duty, by the laws of this State,
to take such measures as I shall deem necessary to procure any
citizen so wrongfully held in slavery, to be restored to his lib-
erty and returned to this State :
Be it known, that hi pursuance of chapter 375 of the laws of
this State, passed in 1840, 1 have constituted, appointed and em-
ployed Henry B. Northup, Esquire, of the county of Washing-
ton, in this State, an Agent, with fall power to effect the resto-
ration of said Solomon Northup, and the said Agent is hereby
authorized and empowered to institute such proper and legal
proceedings, to procure such evidence, retain such counsel, and
finally to take such measures as will be most likely to accom
plish the object of his said appointment.
He is also instructed to px'oceed to the State of Louisiana
with all convenient dispatch, to execute the agency hereby
hi witness whereof, I have hereunto subscribed my name,
[l.s.] and affixed the privy seal of the State, at Albany, tins
23d day of November, in the year of our Lord 1852.
(Signed,) WASHINGTON HUNT.
James F. Euggles, Private Secretary.
C— Page 309.
State of Louisiana :
Parish of Avoyelles.
Before me, Aristide Barbin, Recorder of the parish of Avoy
elles, personally came and appeared Henry B. Northup, of the
county of Washington, State of New- York, who hath declared
that by virtue of a commission to him as agent of the State of
New- York, given and granted by his excellency, Washington
Hunt, Governor of the said State of New-York, bearing date
the 23d day of November, 1852, authorizing and empowering
him, the said Northup, to pursue and recover from slavery a
free man of color, called Solomon Northup, who is a free citi-
zen of the State of New- York, and who was kidnapped and sold
into slavery, in the State of Louisiana, and now in the possession
of Edwin Epps, of the State of Louisiana, of the Parish of Avoy-
elles ; he, the said agent, hereto signing, acknowledges that the
said Edwin has this day given and surrendered to him as such
agent, the said Solomon Northup, free man of color, as afore-
said, ha order that he be restored to his freedom, and carried
back to the said State of New- York, pursuant to said commis-
sion, the said Edwin Epps being satisfied from the proofs pro-
duced by said agent, that the said Solomon Northup is entitled
to his freedom. The parties consenting that a certified copy of
eaid power of attorney be annexed to this act.
336 TWELVE TEARS A SLAVE.
Done and signed at Marksville, parish of Avoyelles, this
fourth day of January, one thousand eight, hundred and fifty-
three, in the presence of the undersigned, legal and competent
witnesses, who have also hereto signed.
(Signed,) HENRY B. NORTHUP.
ADE. BARBIN, Recorder.
John P. Waddill.
State of Louisiana :
Parish of Avoyelles.
I do hereby certify the foregoing to be a true and correct
copy of the original on file and of record in my office.
Given under my hand and seal of office as Recorder
[l. s.] in and for the parish of Avoyelles, this 4th day of
January, A. D. 1853.
(Signed,) ADE. BARBIN, Recorder.
UNIVERSITY OF N C. AT CHAPEL HILLl
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